Sep 11, 2023 - News

Iowa's unvaccinated kindergartener rate edges up

Data: CDC; Chart: Kavya Beheraj/Axios
Data: CDC; Chart: Kavya Beheraj/Axios

Nearly 2.5% of Iowa kindergartners were granted exemptions to required vaccines as of the school year ending in 2022 — a level that has generally followed a growing national trend for the last decade.

Why it matters: Vaccinations reduce or virtually eliminate childhood illnesses that once plagued the country, such as polio.

  • The CDC estimates vaccine programs for children born between 1994 and 2021 can prevent nearly 1.1 million deaths, 472 million illnesses and nearly $2.2 trillion is societal costs during their lifetimes — equivalent to more than $5K for each American.

Zoom in: While children are generally required to get a number of vaccinations before attending public school, exemptions can be given 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.

By the numbers: Nationally, the median kindergarten vaccine exemption rate was rising even before the pandemic, increasing from 1.4% in 2012 to 2.6% in 2019, per CDC estimates. The rate was 2.7% in 2022.

  • Meanwhile, Iowa's rate increased from 1.5% in 2012 to 2.4% in 2019, the same percentage in the most recent year's data.

State of play: Iowa participates in a federal program that covers immunization costs for children of families who have inadequate health insurance.

  • And while that program remains active in every county, healthcare disruptions during the pandemic contributed to reduced immunization coverage rates across all age groups, according to a July report by the Iowa Department of Health and Human Services.

The big picture: While Americans' largely positive views of childhood vaccines have held steady, there are signs that the pandemic has influenced views about their requirements, per a recent Pew survey.

  • Just 70% of Americans now say healthy kids should be vaccinated as a requirement to attend public school — down from 82% in the pre-pandemic era.
  • There's a significant partisan split here, Pew found, with 85% of Democrats agreeing with such a requirement compared to 57% of Republicans.

Yes, but: Healthcare providers play the most significant role in a parent's decision to vaccinate their child, per the Iowa HHS.

  • Patients are as much as five times more likely to get their children vaccinated when doctors provide strong and clear science-based immunization information.

Of note: Iowa's children immunization program protects against almost 30 preventable diseases.


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