School vaccine waivers are skyrocketing in Utah
The number of parents seeking waivers from the state's kindergarten immunization requirements exploded last year.
- The spike came on the heels of anti-vax fervor around COVID-19.
Driving the news: School vaccine waivers more than doubled in some parts of the state from 2020 to 2021, according to preliminary immunization data obtained by Axios Salt Lake City.
By the numbers: Barely a quarter of Utah's elementary schools had at least 95% of their kindergarteners fully vaccinated last fall — the rate needed for herd immunity against measles.
- The share of Utah schools where more than 5% of kindergarteners were exempt rose by nearly 40%.
- Most of those schools are in politically conservative parts of the state.
Why it matters: Children who can't be vaccinated due to allergies or other medical problems rely on their peers to protect them from serious illnesses like measles, whooping cough and polio.
- The sharp increases in vaccine waivers undo gains in vaccine coverage made in recent years, as health experts debunked false claims of risks linked to standard childhood immunizations.
What's happening: Parents fell behind on their kids' immunizations as they skipped doctor visits during the pandemic, said Rich Lakin, director of immunizations for the state health department.
- Caught without the required shots when school began last year, a lot of families sought waivers rather than making last-minute doctor's appointments, Lakin said.
Yes, and: Those delays coincided with a storm of anti-vaccine rhetoric against COVID shots.
- That rhetoric may have soured some people against vaccines in general, Lakin acknowledged.
- "We're expecting that … there'll probably be more that claim an exemption just because they're getting misinformation," Lakin said.
What's next: Health officials are waiting for this year's exemption numbers to see whether last year's rise is due to pandemic delays in doctor visits or cultural resistance to vaccines.
- If we start to see polio outbreaks across the country, then just plain and simple — if you're not vaccinated for polio, you better get [the vaccine]."
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