More than half of America's states have declined over the past decade in adolescent preschool rates on vaccines against diseases such as measles, mumps, hepatitis B and polio, as unfounded theories against vaccination have spread.
A new study from the Centers for Health Testing found that between 2009 and 2018, 50 states in the US experienced a drop in the percentage of vaccinated children in kindergarten. In Georgia and Arkansas, the decline was more than 6%.
The measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine, which has been the focus of many activities of the so-called anti-vaccine movement, is particularly vulnerable. Alarmingly, the study finds that more than half of the states – 26 in total – have vaccination rates that have fallen below the 95% target, which experts say is needed to provide maximum protection against disease.
Three states – Colorado (88.7%), Kansas (89.1%) and Idaho (89.5%) – have rates that have fallen below 90%, which scientists say is particularly vulnerable to measles.
The study is based on data collected from the Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The authors analyzed CDC data covering vaccination rates in kindergartens for the most common vaccines, including MMR, polio, hepatitis B and varicella.
"For diseases with deadly potential, such as measles and polio, the vaccination rate has dropped or remained below ideal thresholds," the study concludes.
The geographical concentration of the anti-vaccine sentiment is just one factor to consider when measuring the effectiveness of vaccines in the fight against disease. The CDC pointed out that the lack of access to health care or health insurance for low-income families is also an important reason for children not to be vaccinated.
The news comes amid renewed attention to anti-vaccine campaign activities that loudly oppose mandatory vaccination of children. Opponents of vaccines often interpret inaccurate information, such as the rejected theory that MMR causes autism.
Earlier this month, supporters of the discredited former British doctor, Andrew Wakefield, published WaxDex 2, a sequel to a documentary used to spread anti-wax propaganda across the United States. Wakefield, which directed the original Vaxxed and appears in the sequel, was debated in practice in 2010 after a study it published in the Lancet with the issue of MMR security was found to be unfair.
Vaxxed 2 credits as Executive Producer Robert J. Kennedy Runner, son of the slain Democratic presidential candidate who shared his name. The Kennedy Stop Compulsory Vaccinations group was unveiled this week as one of two organizations to fund most of the misleading anti-vaccine ads bought on Facebook.
The United States has also struggled with localized outbreaks of measles in California, New York and other states. The importance of local anti-vaccine concentrations underscores the fact that New York State, which has suffered some of the most severe measles outbreaks, has one of the highest rates of MMR vaccination in 97.2% of kindergartens.
Most cases of measles in New York were confined to parts of New York City and Rockland County. The outbreaks have caused more than 900 cases of illness to a great extent in children in ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities where vaccination is widely opposed.
The study of health testing centers emphasizes that trends vary widely from country to country. South Carolina and Iowa noted that the rate of vaccination across the board increased from 2009 to 2018 by 8.5%.
Mississippi stands at the top of the MMR league table, with 99.4% of its kindergartens vaccinated.