US Has Highest-Ever Childhood Vaccine Exemption Rate In History

The United States now faces its highest-ever childhood vaccine exemption rate in history, according to a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report published on Nov. 10.

Before the pandemic, the United States had maintained nearly 95 percent nationwide vaccination coverage for 10 years.

Yet between 2020 and 2021, vaccine coverage in kindergarten-aged children fell to 94 percent; between 2021 and 2022, it dropped to 93 percent.

“It is not clear whether this reflects a true increase in opposition to vaccination, or if parents are opting for nonmedical [vaccine] exemptions because of barriers to vaccination or out of convenience,” the report authors concluded.

“Whether because of an increase in hesitancy or barriers to vaccination, the COVID-19 pandemic affected childhood routine vaccination,” they continued.

Post-COVID Skepticism Spilling Into Vaccine Skepticism

Dr. Cody Meissner, a professor of pediatrics at the Dartmouth Geisel School of Medicine, was concerned that people’s skepticism toward the current COVID-19 vaccines may have also affected their attitude toward conventional vaccines, leading to the decline in CDC-recommended and state-required vaccinations, as recently reported by the CDC.

He suggested that the CDC’s initial delayed recognition of myocarditis as a COVID vaccine side effect in adolescents and young adults, coupled with the agency’s encouragement to vaccinate, as one example of what may be contributing to people’s distrust.

“I think those [vaccination] recommendations were well-intentioned,” he said, but the slow acknowledgment of side effects may have left some people with a perception that the CDC was “not completely forthcoming.”

Pediatrician Dr. Mark Barrett said that the current trend is likely caused by people distrusting recommendations from the CDC, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and even their doctors.

“I feel parents are doing their own research,” he wrote to The Epoch Times via email.

Pediatrician Dr. Derek Husmann said that children having the lowest risk of severe COVID-19 gave parents and pediatricians a unique perspective, making them question the broad need for vaccines.

“The pediatricians’ perspective is pretty significantly different—in reference to the COVID pandemic—than a physician who takes care of adults,” Dr. Husmann said, “because the pediatric population was at essentially zero risk of death or serious complications from COVID infection.”

According to the CDC website dashboard, deaths from COVID-19 make up about 3 percent of all deaths, but the percentage is even smaller in children.

“There was a perceived conflict between the information that COVID was less serious in children, yet the vaccine was recommended for them. This was never satisfactorily explained or resolved,” Dr. William Schaffner, a professor of preventive medicine and health policy in the Infectious Disease Division at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, wrote to The Epoch Times.

California pediatrician Dr. Samara Cardenas said that the public slowly came to realize the COVID-19 vaccines were not safe nor effective as initially promised, and this may have also prompted parents to question the need for routine vaccinations.

“[In California], if you’re not vaccinated, they won’t even take a medical exemption. So I have quite a few patients asking about homeschooling rather than vaccinating their children,” she said.

“There has been this incredible increase in homeschooling since the COVID pandemic, and so that may have falsely inflated the vaccine rates in the [report],” added Dr. Husmann, who is based in rural Texas.

Conventional Vaccines vs. COVID-19 Vaccines

Some doctors are now troubled by the risks posed by declining rates of conventional vaccinations and the potential for increased outbreaks due to vaccine-preventable diseases like polio.

Dr. Meissner said, “At this time, it is important for parents to consider a distinction between the benefits versus risks of the pediatric COVID vaccines and other childhood vaccines that have successfully controlled many infectious diseases.”

Dr. Schaffner agreed, adding that children are encouraged to get immunized against COVID-19 and that more public health work is needed to encourage conventional vaccine takeup.

“Measles, polio, diphtheria, for example, are vague concepts to [parents]. And so, these diseases are not known, therefore not respected or even feared, leading to questions about the vaccine,” Dr. Schaffner said.

“I tell current medical students that before we had measles vaccine available in the United States, back in the 1960s, there were 400 to 500 children that died annually in the United States, secondary to measles and its complications,” he explained. “Their jaws drop. They have no idea.”

However, some doctors have become more cautionary about childhood vaccine recommendations, fearing denial and the potential coverup of side effects.

“There is a potential public health concern when children remain fully unvaccinated for all traditional childhood vaccines,” pediatrician Dr. Renata Moon, who previously worked as a professor of medicine at the University of Washington, wrote to The Epoch Times. “[But] the question on everyone’s mind is, ‘what safety data do we have for each childhood vaccine?’

“Many parents who used to follow the traditional childhood vaccination schedule have stepped back from vaccinating their children altogether. They have lost trust in recommendations from public health agencies and are taking a ‘safer to wait’ approach,” she added.

Dr. Cardenas echoed Dr. Moon with a similar statement. “I used to be 100 percent vaccinated,” she said, adding that the COVID era has made her realize she needs to do more research, and has similarly taken the safer-to-wait approach for now.

Dr. Husmann added that immunization does not guarantee a complete elimination of outbreaks, explaining that there have been measles outbreaks among both vaccinated and unvaccinated people.

In 2003, a measles outbreak occurred in a highly vaccinated boarding school in Pennsylvania. The school had a vaccination rate of 95 percent. Out of nine laboratory-confirmed cases of measles, only two were unvaccinated.

Other cases demonstrate the opposing scenario. In December 2022, a measles outbreak occurred in central Ohio. The jurisdiction estimated an immunization rate of 80 percent to 90 percent, yet of the 73 children infected, most (67) were unvaccinated.

The centuries-long recommendation to vaccinate stems from the notion that there is no trade-off for immunity against infectious disease. However, Drs. Husmann and Cardenas argue that childhood vaccines may also present long-term risks that are not well-known and rarely discussed.

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