CDC report: Childhood vaccination exemptions reach all-time high

A child gets a vaccination on February 19, 2021. (Photo by Ute Grabowsky/Photothek via Getty Images)

A study released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday indicates that 3% of all U.S. kindergartners are not being vaccinated, the highest level reported ever.

More parents appear to be questioning the childhood vaccination routine, once automatically accepted as the standard. One factor attributed to the growing exemptions is the political schism which emerged during the COVID-19 pandemic as vaccinations were rolled out for emergency use.

Even though more kids were given exemptions, the national vaccination rate held steady: 93% of kindergartners got their required shots for the 2022-2023 school year, the same as the year before, the CDC said in a report Thursday. The rate was 95% in the years before the COVID-19 pandemic.

"The bad news is that it’s gone down since the pandemic and still hasn’t rebounded," Dr. Sean O’Leary, a University of Colorado pediatric infectious diseases specialist, told The Associated Press. "The good news is that the vast majority of parents are still vaccinating their kids according to the recommended schedule."

Every single state and territory required children attending child care centers and schools to be vaccinated against a number of diseases, including, measles, mumps, polio, tetanus, whooping cough and chickenpox.

Those same states and territories allow for children to be exempt due to medical conditions, religious objections, and other nonmedical reasons,

In the last decade, the percentage of kindergartners with medical exemptions has held steady, at about 0.2%. But the percentage with nonmedical exemptions has inched up, lifting the overall exemption rate from 1.6% in the 2011-2012 school year to 3% last year.

Last year, more than 115,000 kindergartners were exempt from at least one vaccine, the CDC estimated.


Los Angeles, CA - December 14:Children join parents opposed to LAUSD's student vaccine mandate outside the district office in Los Angeles while the school board meets on enforcement of the mandate on Tuesday, December 14, 2021. (Photo by Sarah Reinge

The rates can be influenced by state laws or policies that can make it harder or easier to obtain exemptions, and by local attitudes among families and doctors about the need to get children vaccinated.

Health officials say attaining 95% vaccination coverage is important to prevent outbreaks of preventable diseases, especially of measles, which is extremely contagious.

The U.S. has seen measles outbreaks begin when travelers infected elsewhere came to communities with low vaccination rates. That happened in 2019 when about 1,300 measles cases were reported — the most in the U.S. in nearly 30 years. Most of the cases were in were in Orthodox Jewish communities with low vaccination rates.

One apparent paradox in the report: The national vaccination rate held steady even as exemptions increased. How could that be?

CDC officials say it’s because there are actually three groups of children in the vaccination statistics. One is those who get all the shots. A second is those who get exemptions. The third are children who did not seek exemptions but also did not get all their shots and paperwork completed at the time the data was collected.

The Associated Press contributed to this report