Aug 24, 2023 - Health

Unvaccinated kindergarteners on the rise in Arkansas

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

2.5% of kindergartners across Arkansans were granted exemptions to required vaccines as of the school year ending in 2022, compared to 0.9% in 2012.

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

  • Children are generally required to get a number of vaccinations before attending public school; however, exemptions can be given for both medical and nonmedical reasons, such as religious or philosophical objections.
  • Studies have found an increased risk of infection from vaccine-preventable diseases among exempt children.

Driving the news: COVID-19 vaccinations are not required for young children attending public school anywhere in the U.S., but it appears that vaccine skepticism is swelling among a relatively small but growing number of parents — though that trend certainly existed before the pandemic.

By the numbers: The nationwide median kindergarten vaccination exemption rate was rising even before COVID-19, up from 1.4% in 2012 and 2.6% in 2019.

  • It has stayed at 2.5% or higher since 2020, coming in at 2.7% in 2022, the latest year for which data is available.

Zoom in: As of 2022, Idaho (9.8%), Utah (7.4%) and Oregon (7%) had the highest median kindergarten vaccination exemption rates.

  • Mississippi, New York and West Virginia were tied for the lowest, at 0.1%.

Between the lines: Even as the kindergarten vaccine exemption rate ticks up, Americans as a whole are overwhelmingly supportive of childhood vaccinations, per a recent Pew survey.

  • When it comes to the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) shot, 88% of Americans said the benefits outweigh the risks, compared to 10% who feel the opposite.
  • "The share expressing confidence in the value of MMR vaccines is identical to the share who said this in 2019, before the coronavirus outbreak," per Pew.

Yes, but: Just 70% of Americans now say healthy kids should be vaccinated as a requirement to attend public school, Pew found — down from 82% in the prepandemic era.

  • While Democratic support for vaccine requirements held steady at around 85% between pre- and post-pandemic years, Republican support took a remarkable nosedive, falling from 79% in 2019 to 57% in 2023.
  • Put another way, the overall decline in support for vaccination requirements is being driven almost entirely by Republicans.

The bottom line: We'd like to see further research before definitively saying that skepticism around the COVID shots is leading to higher childhood vaccination exemption rates, but it sure seems that way.

  • As Pew put it: "Those who are not vaccinated for COVID-19 are among those most likely to express concern about childhood vaccines generally."

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