Despite a welcome decline in the number of children missing shots, immunization records show that kids are still not getting the recommended vaccines for measles, mumps and rubella, according to government data.
To identify, count and monitor the decline in vaccine exemption rates since a measles outbreak began in Washington state last December, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is now giving tracking services for three public-health networks in the U.S.: the Maryland State Department of Health, the Pennsylvania Department of Health and the Florida Department of Health.
The purpose is to determine trends in the number of children receiving the full set of three vaccines for measles, mumps and rubella, or MMR. All three MMR vaccines are given at ages 2, 4 and 6.
By November 2018, children between the ages of 1 and 19 living in Washington, Maryland and Florida were missing at least one of the three vaccines. In November 2016, before the outbreak, Maryland had a rate of missing MMR vaccine that was 86 percent higher. In Florida, the missing rate was 94 percent higher. That year, 44 measles cases were reported in Washington state. In 2017, 32 cases were reported.
Looking at the CDC’s annual MMR vaccine coverage statistics, we can see that fewer than 95 percent of Maryland children and 88 percent of Florida children were vaccinated for the full set of three MMR vaccines in November 2018.
However, the rate of missed vaccination is not the same as the rate of vaccinated. The school and day-care vaccination requirement for MMR, including for an alternate dose of MMR vaccine for children who are not immune to measles, is 35 percent (the much smaller alternative vaccine, which protects against HPV-related cancers, is 75 percent). For vaccinated children, the rate of missing vaccine is 9 percent.
Currently, Maryland and Florida both have low rates of vaccinating children; Pennsylvania, by contrast, has a higher rate of vaccinations, at 87 percent.
What remains unknown is if and when the rate of missing MMR vaccine among the children who are vaccinated for the full series will decrease, or if and when the rate of missing MMR vaccine among the children who are vaccinated for an alternative dose will decrease, as well.
“It’s an area that needs significant close work, but we feel like we’re at the starting line and not at the finish line,” said Dr. Rick Bair, deputy secretary at the Maryland State Department of Health. “It is impossible to stop people from letting their kids get vaccinated or not vaccinating them.”