Aug 29, 2023 - News

Fewer Ohio kindergartners are getting vaccinated

Data: CDC; Chart: Kavya Beheraj/Axios

The rate of Ohio kindergartners with childhood vaccine exemptions has doubled over the last decade, from 1.5% to 3%, per CDC estimates.

Why it matters: Vaccinations reduce the spread of potentially fatal illnesses that once plagued the country, such as polio.

Context: While all Ohio children are required to get a number of vaccinations before attending school, exemptions are permitted for both medical and non-medical reasons, such as religious or moral objections.

  • ​​Studies have found an increased risk of infection from vaccine-preventable diseases among exempt children.

Zoom in: Central Ohioans learned this the hard way last winter, when a local measles outbreak — 2022's largest nationwide — infected 85 children, 36 of whom were hospitalized.

  • Ohio's coverage rate for the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) shot has dropped from 96% to 88% of kindergartners from 2012 to 2022, per the CDC.
  • Measles is highly contagious, so 95% coverage is required for herd immunity.

The big picture: Though COVID-19 vaccination is not required for young children attending public school anywhere in the U.S., it appears that concerns over that shot may be fueling broader vaccine skepticism among a relatively small but growing number of parents.

Yes, but: The country's median kindergarten vaccine exemption rate was rising even before the pandemic, from 1.4% in 2012 to 2.6% in 2019, Axios' Alex Fitzpatrick and Kavya Beheraj report.

  • It was 2.7% in 2022, the most recent data available.

Between the lines: Just 70% of Americans now say healthy kids should be vaccinated as a requirement to attend public school, a recent Pew survey found — down from 82% pre-pandemic.

  • The decline is driven almost entirely by Republicans, whose support fell from 79% in 2019 to 57% in 2023.
  • Democrats' support held steady at around 85%.

Of note: "Those who are not vaccinated for COVID-19 are among those most likely to express concern about childhood vaccines generally," according to Pew.

Flashback: Ohio's Republican lawmakers passed a law in 2021 prohibiting schools from "discriminating against" unvaccinated students by requiring them to wear masks, undergo testing or quarantine.

  • Such measures, if implemented, must be required of all students.
  • The law also prohibits schools from mandating vaccines without full FDA approval — which, at the time, was true for all COVID shots.

What we're watching: A group continues to collect signatures to place a constitutional amendment before Ohio voters that would ban vaccine requirements altogether, including in schools, an organizer tells Axios.

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