Aug 9, 2023 - Health

Colorado's childhood immunization rates decline as exemptions rise

Data: Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment; Chart: Erin Davis/Axios Visuals

Immunizations among school-age children continue to decline in Colorado, falling below 90% for the second year in a row.

Why it matters: Colorado's vaccination rates remain among the nation's lowest, and public health officials are warning parents about the possibility of outbreaks in the upcoming school year.

What to know: The state requires at least six vaccines for students to enter child care and public school, all designed to prevent the spread of measles, mumps, whooping cough, polio, and chickenpox. Others, such as influenza and COVID-19, are recommended.

  • The greatest decrease in rates is among kindergarteners. MMR coverage this coming school year is 86.8%, the lowest level since the 2017-18 school year, state data shows.

What's happening: More parents are exempting their children from the required vaccines, up to 4% at the kindergarten level, on religious or medical grounds

The intrigue: Gov. Jared Polis, a Democrat who opposes vaccine mandates, is at the center of the debate.

  • He worked to defeat a bill in 2019 that would have made it harder for parents to claim an exemption from required immunizations. Instead, he signed an executive order to increase education and study the issue.

Reality check: The latest decline in rates reinforces that his approach isn't working.

What they're saying: "It's been a challenging few years for everyone, but now is the time to get up to date before we see outbreaks of these preventable diseases," said state epidemiologist Rachel Herlihy.

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