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Vaccination rates drop with another Colorado school year ahead

Vaccination rates drop with another Colorado school year ahead
Vaccination rates drop with another Colorado school year ahead 03:14

Colorado school children are heading back to school amid another report of falling vaccination rates in the state.

"We saw drops in vaccine rates across the board," said the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment's Immunization Branch Chief Heather Roth. "But the most pronounced decreases were observed among our kindergarten aged kids in Colorado."

The vaccination rates come from the 2022-2023 school year, the latest data available. Exemption rates also increased over the year before.

Colorado requires several vaccines for children in school or child care. That includes measles, mumps, rubella, whooping cough, polio, and varicella (chickenpox). There are additional vaccines that public health officials recommend, but that are optional, including COVID-19, hepatitis A, human papillomavirus and influenza vaccinations. Immunization rates for school-required vaccines among kindergartners all fell below 90% for the second year in a row with all but the hepatitis B vaccination.

Colorado doctor explains why kids need shots before heading to school 02:40

Vaccines create the concept of herd immunity. Different diseases have different thresholds in terms of the percentage of vaccinated people needed to create it. A disease like measles has a high threshold. 95% of people in a community vaccinated against measles explained Roth is necessary for protection. "When we look at our kindergarten age population for the entire State of Colorado, it's below 87% … So that's where we're concerned. The evidence shows that when we have decreases below those thresholds it really increases the risk of vaccine, preventable disease outbreaks."

Doctors have noticed a drop off too. "Some people will say well I just don't believe in that and you ask them why and they can't tell you why they don't believe in it," said Dr. Kristine Appel, a pediatric hospitalist at Rocky Mountain Hospital for Children. "I think there definitely has been a change in attitude."

One woman we spoke to who asked not to be identified said she had gotten an exemption to the vaccine requirement for her daughter, now 12 for the MMR vaccine, although their daughter did have other vaccinations. "Something about MMR did not sit right with me," she said. She said they knew a family with a child with autism who had a physician that told them to hold off. "She had two more children and they actually advised her to not get the MMR shots for her other two kids or at least delay them."  Claims of linkage between the MMR vaccine and autism have been debunked.

Many more still fear the COVID-19 vaccine. "We've proven that the COVID vaccine is very safe and very effective," said Dr. Appel. But fear still remains at concepts that may be hard to grasp. Experts are trying to pin down reasons for the drop in vaccination that may include a decline in healthcare access through the pandemic. But the fear says Roth is a resurgence of diseases like measles, which has been showing up again. "I think you often hear about vaccines being a victim of their own successes. "These things are not gone. They are still here, and vaccines remain; our most effective protection at preventing disease outbreaks."

CDPHE offers help to families to track their vaccines and make sure they're up to date. Additional resources include:

  • directs people on how to request vaccination records for their children.
  • makes it easy for people to look up vaccination and exemption rates for schools and child care facilities in Colorado so they can make the best decision for their children.
  • provides more information on routine vaccinations, as well as where to find a provider who offers low- or no-cost vaccines.
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