Keeping up to date with state-required vaccines in the US—measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine (MMR); diphtheria, tetanus, and acellular pertussis vaccine (DTaP); poliovirus (polio) vaccine; and varicella vaccine—is the simplest and easiest method of prevention against outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases in children and adolescents. On January 13, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) published concerning statistics showing that vaccination coverage in kindergarteners in the US for the 2021–22 school year has decreased for the second consecutive year.

Despite an almost complete return to in-person learning, COVID-19-related disruptions have meant that vaccination coverage for all vaccines in the 49 states and the District of Columbia has dropped to 93% in the 2021–22 school year from 94% in 2020–21 and 95% in 2019–20. Nationally, two-dose MMR vaccine coverage was reported at 93.5%, DTaP coverage was reported at 93.1%, polio coverage was reported at 93.5%, and varicella coverage was reported at 92.8%. Around 2.6% of kindergartens had an exemption for at least one vaccine, which is an increase from 2.2% in 2020–21, and an additional 3.9% did not have an exemption and were not up to date for MMR. These consistent drops are concerning, especially when coupled with the decline in seasonal influenza vaccinations that is also being observed in the US in children.

According to the CDC, seasonal influenza vaccination coverage dropped from 64.5% in 2019–20, to 59% in 2020–21, to 58.4% in 2021–22 in children ages 5–12 years. GlobalData epidemiologists estimate that by the end of 2023, there will be just over 150,000 confirmed incident cases of seasonal influenza in children ages 5–12 years in the US. That number is projected to increase to over 160,203 cases by the end of 2028. This forecast was made prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, so the numbers in the years following 2020 may be higher than estimated with the gradual lifting of COVID-19 restrictions. Raising awareness of the benefits of getting vaccinated and enforcing stricter follow ups on overdue vaccinations in children can help avoid vaccine-preventable comorbidities, especially during winter when influenza cases typically peak in the US. 

These findings from the MMWR report offer valuable insight into the trends and patterns of vaccine coverage whilst COVID-19 is present. It also highlights the need for public health measures to be made in improving and increasing campaigns for vaccine awareness to protect the population from outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases in the near future.

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