Aug 28, 2023 - News

Tracking kindergarten vaccine exemptions in Minnesota

Note: Data includes medical and non-medical exemptions. Data: CDC; Chart: Kavya Beheraj/Axios

Thousands of Minnesota kindergarteners will likely enter school this fall without vaccines meant to protect themselves and their peers from illness.

Driving the news: An estimated 3.7% of kindergarteners across the state were granted exemptions to required vaccines as of the school year ending in 2022, compared to 1.6% in 2012, Alex Fitzpatrick and Kavya Beheraj report.

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

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

The big picture: Some public health officials have expressed concern that heightened vaccine hesitancy post-COVID, combined with families falling behind on preventative care during the pandemic, could exacerbate a years-long uptick in kids skipping important shots.

  • The overall percentage of 6-year-olds who are up to date on recommended immunizations has also dropped slightly since 2019, from 72% to 71%, per data released by the Minnesota Department of Health this summer.
  • The cohort's 89% vaccination rate for measles, mumps, and rubella is among the lowest in the nation.

Between the lines: While the vast majority of kids do have their shots, a few percentage points can make a significant difference.

  • Keeping measles at bay, for example, requires a vaccination rate closer to 95%, experts told KARE 11.

Zoom out: The nationwide median kindergarten vaccine exemption rate was rising even before the pandemic, increasing from 1.4% in 2012 to 2.6% in 2019, per the CDC.

  • It hit 2.7% in 2022, the latest year for which data is available.

Zoom in: Minnesota experienced a similar trend, with vaccine exemptions spiking in the mid-2010s and inching up since then.

What we're watching: Americans as a whole are overwhelmingly supportive of childhood vaccinations, per a recent Pew survey.

  • 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 pre-pandemic era.
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