Kindergarten vaccination rates drop as Ohio public health officials fight back

The National Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says national vaccine rates for young children are down for the third year in a row, and Ohio public health officials paint a similar picture at the local level.

In its most recent summary of immunization coverage, the CDC again cited pandemic-related disruptions as the reason for the decline in vaccines for measles, mumps and rubella (MMR), polio and diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (whooping cough). Kindergartners need to boost their immune systems in the age of vaccines and go to school.

“Vaccination coverage among kindergarten students is below pre-pandemic levels,” the CDC report said. “Outbreaks can occur from pockets of under-vaccinated children within larger areas of high immunization coverage.”

In the 2021–2022 school year, nationally, vaccine coverage for the kindergarten-aged group was 93%, with less than 3% of the population claiming exemption from vaccine use.

That’s less than the 2020-2021 school year, where national coverage among kindergartners dropped to 94% from 95% a year earlier.

From 2021-22 the national number sees an increase of about 4% in children who were not caught up on their MMR vaccine but did not claim an exemption for the vaccines.

“As schools return to in-person learning, high immunization coverage is critical to continue protecting children and communities from vaccine-preventable diseases,” the CDC researchers wrote.

The CDC surveyed 92% of 139,077 kindergartners in Ohio for its coverage study. Of those, 88% have received two doses of the MMR series, 88.5% have received five doses of DTaP vaccine, 88.9% have received their four-dose polio series and 87.9% have received two-dose chicken pox (varicella) vaccine Is.

To avoid major societal impacts, local public health officials are working to encourage parents to be back on schedule with vaccinations.

“With fewer people vaccinated we are at risk of losing our herd immunity to these diseases,” said Dr. David Margolius, director of the Cleveland Department of Public Health.

Although misinformation about the COVID-19 vaccine fueled the movement to avoid vaccines, public health leaders say the decline in vaccinations is due to the shutdown of the pandemic and less-to-less contact with students and parents. The reason happened because COVID-19 took hold.

As students return to in-person schooling with statewide easing of COVID-19 regulations, doctors and nurses are working to bring people back up-to-date and answer questions about long-overdue childhood vaccinations. Making every effort to respond.

“There are diseases that I haven’t seen in my life and training, and that’s because of vaccines,” said Dr. Miller Sullivan, Franklin County Public Health medical director and pediatrician for Central Ohio Primary Care. “Most people (in the United States) today haven’t seen measles, most physicians haven’t seen measles, but other countries have serious mortality rates for those diseases.”

Franklin County is already seeing fallout results, with an ongoing measles outbreak, with the Department of Public Health saying 1 in 5 unvaccinated people in the US are hospitalized if they contract the disease Will go

Vaccination is important for children so they can build immunity with less risk of major illness, and medical professionals who are treating children know how impactful a disease like whooping cough can be.

Lisa Horstmann, a registered nurse and immunization coordinator Allen County Public Health, saw an infant suffering from an illness and it stays with her as she works to educate the public.

“(The kid) was turning blue, they were having trouble getting the cuffs out,” Horstmann said. “It was enough to make an impact on me, and I think everyone involved.”

Health departments across the state are working on “multipronged” strategies as they run clinics for vaccines at no cost and work to educate residents on the benefits of vaccination.

“We’ve been vaccinating for these diseases for decades, and it’s been proven that those vaccines keep the diseases away for those kids,” said Dr. Eric Zagodzinski, health commissioner for the Toledo-Lucas County Health Department. “As we start to see COVID sort of in the rearview mirror, there are other diseases we need to remember.”

For Horstman, trust is a big part of the education process when talking to parents about vaccinations.

“We’ve talked about really listening to concerns,” Horstmann said. “At the same time, we use that nursing best practice to send reminders to families when it is time for the next vaccine.”

The medical community, along with campaigns for vaccinations in schools, bringing nurses into schools and wraparound services providing care through schools, is bringing vaccinations to students rather than waiting for them to enter a doctor’s office.

“I try and meet people where they are,” Margolius said. “It’s a matter of getting the system back up and running and we need to be innovative and come up with new models of care.”

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