Exemptions for kindergarten vaccinations increased 50% this school year and health officials are concerned. Vaccinations are a critical tool in prevention of outbreaks of deadly diseases and significant reductions in vaccination rates pose serious public health risks.
Signs of a Public Health Problem
Axios Cleveland reports that 3% of kindergartners across Ohio were granted exemptions for requisite vaccines as of the school year ending in 2022, compared with 1.5% in 2012. Most children are required to get multiple vaccinations before attending public school, however exemptions can be given for both medical and non-medical reasons (such as religious or moral objections), depending on local rules.
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) advises that childhood vaccinations are a critical tool in prevention of potentially fatal or debilitating childhood illnesses such as polio, measles, mumps, rubella, whooping cough, and many more. While many Americans are unfamiliar with the consequences of these diseases due to widespread vaccination, studies have found an increased risk of infection from vaccine-preventable diseases among exempt children. This indicates the potential for community outbreaks.
Public health officials are fighting back against this downward trend in vaccinations in an effort to prevent community outbreaks. “As schools return to in-person learning, high vaccination coverage is critical to continue protecting children and communities from vaccine-preventable diseases,” CDC researchers wrote.
Identifying the Source of the Problem
Part of this effort is identifying the reason for this downward trend. Some believe that misinformation spread during the Covid-19 pandemic is a contributing factor.
Axios reports, “Though COVID-19 vaccination is not required for young children attending public school anywhere in the U.S., it appears that concerns over that shot may be fueling broader vaccine skepticism among a relatively small but growing number of parents — though that trend certainly existed before the pandemic.”
Myths to Bust
Educating parents about common vaccination myths is important. According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, some of these myths include:
Myth 1: Vaccines contain many harmful ingredients.
Fact: Vaccines contain ingredients that allow the product to be safely administered.
Myth 2: Vaccines cause autism and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
Fact: Vaccines are very safe. Most vaccine reactions are usually temporary and minor, such as a fever or sore arm. It is rare to experience a very serious health event following a vaccination, but these events are carefully monitored and investigated. You are far more likely to be seriously injured by a vaccine-preventable disease than by a vaccine
Myth 3: Vaccine-preventable diseases are just part of childhood. It is better to have the disease than become immune through vaccines.
Fact: Vaccine-preventable diseases have many serious complications that can be avoided through immunization.
Myth 4: I don’t need to vaccinate my child because all the other children around them are already immune.
Fact: Herd immunity occurs when a large portion of a community is immunized against a contagious disease, reducing the chance of an outbreak. Infants, pregnant women and immunocompromised people who cannot receive vaccines depend on this type of protection.
Myth 5: A child can actually get the disease from a vaccine.
Fact: A vaccine causing complete disease would be extremely unlikely. Most vaccines are inactivated (killed) vaccines, which makes it impossible to contract the disease from the vaccine.
More than Misinformation
While misinformation and myths may be a contributor to the downward trend in vaccination rates, many public health officials believe the reason may be simpler. According to the Ohio Capital Journal, “Though misinformation about the COVID-19 vaccine fueled movements to avoid vaccines, public health leaders say the decline in vaccination was caused by pandemic closures and less in-person interaction with students and parents as COVID-19 took hold.
As students return to in-person schooling with COVID-19 regulations easing in the state, doctors and nurses are doing what they can to bring people back to up to date and answer their questions about the long-standing childhood vaccinations.”
Public Health Professionals on a Mission
Health professionals are determined to improve the public health outlook and prevent childhood illnesses. “I try and meet people where they’re at,” Dr. David Margolius, director of the Cleveland Department of Public Health said. “It’s a matter of getting the systems back up and running and we do need to be innovative and come up with new models of care.”
The Ohio Capital Journal reports that health departments across the state are working on “multi-pronged” strategies as they staff clinics for no-cost vaccines and work to educate residents on the benefits of immunizations.
“We’ve been vaccinating for decades for these diseases and it’s proven that those vaccines stave off diseases for those kids,” said Dr. Eric Zgodzinski, health commissioner for the Toledo-Lucas County Health Department. “As we start seeing COVID kind of in the rearview mirror, there’s other diseases that we need to remember are around.”