Vaccine exemption rate increases across country

Published: Nov. 20, 2023 at 7:55 PM CST|Updated: Nov. 21, 2023 at 10:51 AM CST
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BISMARCK, N.D. (KFYR) - Public schools require kindergarten students to have routine vaccinations before school starts, but there are exemptions available for some. From 2019 to 2022, the number of parents across the nation claiming exemptions for their kindergarteners’ vaccines increased.

The CDC says from 2019 to 2022, the number of kindergartners who received their recommended vaccines decreased from 95 percent to 93 percent. It didn’t pick up again in the 2022 to 2023 school year either, meaning only about 93 percent of kindergarteners were vaccinated against measles, mumps, rubella and polio.

Dr. Danielle Thurtle, a pediatric hospitalist at Sanford Health, said North Dakota’s numbers are even lower, a reversal from pre-pandemic numbers.

“We noticed in the 1980s and 90s that we actually had much lower vaccination rates than the rest of the country, and a lot of work went into that from a public health perspective to try and get our community to the same level as the rest of the country’s vaccination rates. We made really great progress on that until Covid in 2022, and since that time we’ve seen the decline in numbers,” Dr. Thurtle said.

In the CDC’s report, only 91 percent to 92 percent of North Dakota kindergarteners received their recommended vaccines for the 2022 to 2023 school year.

Molly Howell, North Dakota’s Department of Health and Human Safety’s Immunization director, said in North Dakota, parents can claim a moral, philosophical or religious exemption for vaccines, and the number of parents claiming those exemptions has increased about one percent since the pandemic started.

“We’re always concerned when things are trending in the wrong direction, especially with immunization rates. We really want to see about a 95 percent immunization rate, especially for measles, because it’s so infectious and contagious that if it gets into a school, and not all or most children aren’t immunized, it can spread rather quickly,” Howell said.

Howell said the exemption rate isn’t necessarily cause for alarm, but the overall decline is concerning.

Dr. Thurtle said if your child missed their vaccinations, it’s not too late to schedule an appointment and get them caught up.

She said the CDC has recommendations on vaccination schedules for all ages.