Ky. kindergartners’ vaccination rates rose last year, but remained below the national average and were short of ‘herd immunity’ level

By Al Cross
Kentucky Health News

More Kentucky children are getting their basic vaccinations, after three years of decline, but the state remains below the national average, and below the level needed to protect the whole population.

In the 2022-23 school year, at least 90.1 percent of Kentucky kindergartners received the combined vaccination against measles, mumps and rubella (“German measles”). That was a big improvement from the 86.5% recorded in 2021-22, which followed two years of decline, but it still wasn’t as high as the 93.4% in 2018-19. Percentages for other childhood vaccines were about the same as MMR.

The state’s MMR vaccination rate remained below the national rate of 93.1%, which is almost two percentage points below the 95% that epidemiologists say is needed to provide “herd immunity,” which also protects those who are not vaccinated by limiting spread of the viruses.

State law has long required the two-dose MMR vaccination for children entering school for the first time. A 2020 law allows several exemptions from vaccine mandates for “any child or adult” on religious grounds, medical reasons or a “conscientiously held belief.” According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, such exemptions were claimed for 1.7% of Kentucky children in 2022-23, an increase the 1.3% recorded in 2021-22.

The reported vaccination percentages may have been slightly higher because data wasn’t available for about 3% of kindergartners. At the same time, the reported figures could overstate immunity because the state counted some or all vaccine doses even if not administered at the age and time intervals the CDC recommends.

The increase in vaccination rates could be a result of extra efforts by the state and the Kentucky Rural Health Association, which created the Immunize Kentucky Coalition in cooperation with the state in 2022. The coalition says it aims “to increase immunization rates and prevent disease by fostering a partnership of Kentucky parents, patients, businesses, healthcare organizations, and others by promoting health equity that supports the delivery of safe and effective immunizations through stronger community buy-in and public health education.”

The state Department for Public Health “is working closely with local health departments across the state to promote MMR vaccination in communities that have low vaccine uptake,” spokesman Brice Mitchell said in an email. “While rates have not returned to pre-pandemic levels yet, vaccination coverage in Kentucky is increasing. This highlights the need for continued education and enforcement of school and child care vaccination requirements in Kentucky to ensure the health and safety of all children. . . . Vaccination is a simple, safe and effective​ way to protect against harmful diseases.”

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