U.S. Vaccination Rates Are Higher Than We Thought — But It’s Not All Great News

Korin Miller
·Writer

A new government report shows promising findings, but experts caution against being overly optimistic. (Photo: Getty Images)

Despite anti-vaccination campaigns, more children are being vaccinated in the U.S. than previously thought, according to a recent estimate released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Current rates of vaccination will prevent 322 million illnesses, 21 million hospitalizations, and 732,000 deaths of children born between 1994 and 2013, the CDC says.

Among the findings:

  • Ninety percent of children under age 3 were vaccinated against polio, measles, mumps, rubella, hepatitis B, and chickenpox last year.

  • Less than 90 percent received the DTaP vaccine, which protects against diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis, or vaccines that protect against Haemophilus influenzae Type B, pneumococcal disease, hepatitis A, and rotavirus. (Experts say more than 90 percent need to be vaccinated to have herd immunity. Herd immunity is the phenomenon that occurs when a large portion of a community is immunized against a contagious disease. As a result, most people in the community are protected against the disease — even those who aren’t immunized — because there is little chance of an outbreak occurring.)

  • Less than 90 percent of children received the hepatitis B vaccine at birth, as recommended.

  • Only 71 percent of kids received the combined vaccination series. That includes four doses of DTaP, three doses of polio, at least one dose of measles, mumps, and rubella, three to four doses of Haemophilus influenzae Type B, at least three doses of hepatitis B, one dose of chickenpox, and four doses of pneumococcus.

  • Just 0.7 percent of all children received no vaccines at all.

While that low number of unvaccinated children sounds like it could only be a good thing, Danelle Fisher, MD, vice chair of pediatrics at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California, tells Yahoo Health why it may paint an overly optimistic picture: “One vaccination doesn’t protect against all diseases,” she says. “And a vaccine is only as good as following a schedule.”

She cites the following information as an example: The first shot of the DTaP vaccine will not fully protect a child, but subsequent shots increase protection. “That child is still vulnerable after the first shot,” she says.

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“While it’s encouraging to hear that most children in the U.S. get one vaccine of something, they don’t necessarily get all of [them] that they need,” she says.

Fisher also isn’t thrilled by the statistic that only 71 percent of children receive the combined vaccination series. “In order to have herd immunity, you need to have more than 90 percent of children vaccinated,” she says. “That means we’re doing poorly compared to other countries.”

Vaccines have helped dramatically lower — and even wipe out — instances of some once-deadly or life-altering diseases. Polio, a disease that once crippled more than 35,000 people in the U.S. each year, was virtually wiped out in the late 1970s due to vaccinations, the CDC reports. But, the organization adds, “the best way to keep the United States polio-free is to maintain high immunity (protection) in the population against polio through vaccination.”

Measles was virtually wiped out in the U.S. as well thanks to vaccinations, but the CDC reports a rise in cases in the past year, including 188 cases in 24 states and the District of Columbia. “This is the greatest number of cases since measles elimination was documented in the U.S. in 2000,” the organization says on its website, adding that the majority of people who contracted the disease were unvaccinated.

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Fisher, who appeared in Jimmy Kimmel’s vaccination PSA earlier this year, stresses that vaccinations have “extremely minimal side effects,” such as high fever (which she says is “incredibly rare”) and pains, adding, “these are not the evils that people report them to be.”

While vaccination rates aren’t quite where officials would like for them to be, some of them are increasing, per CDC data. The national vaccination targets were met for four vaccines (MMR, hepatitis B, polio, and varicella), and coverage is increasing for the rotavirus vaccine.

But Fisher says we can do better: “Our goal needs to be above 90 percent for these vaccines. It shows that we have work to do.”

For more information on vaccinations, as well as when your child should be vaccinated against certain diseases, please see the American Pediatrics Association’s recommended vaccination schedule.

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