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Increasing Number of Young Children Not Getting Vaccinated, CDC Reports

Young children need vaccines against a range of potentially serious diseases, many of which have been nearly eradicated in the U.S. because of parents following immunization schedules. However, an estimated 100,000 pre-schoolers have not had a vaccination against any of the 14 diseases for which shots are recommended, according to a new report [1] from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The CDC says that the percentage of children age 2 and younger who are not getting all of their vaccinations has increased four-fold over the past 17 years.

Young children are particularly vulnerable to complications from vaccine-preventable diseases, some of which can be fatal, the CDC says. Overall, most young children — about 70 percent — have had all their shots. But the growing trend of the most vulnerable not getting their shots is very concerning to public officials and pediatricians.

Researchers did not ask parents why their kids were not vaccinated. But some trends were noted by the CDC. Children who were uninsured or insured by Medicaid, and those who lived outside of a major metropolitan area, were less likely to be vaccinated, compared to those with private insurance or those who lived in a city. About 7 percent of uninsured children did not receive their vaccinations, compared to 0.8 percent of children with private insurance, the CDC found.

Getting vaccinated is one of the best ways to protect infants, children and teens from potentially harmful diseases. Some diseases, such as polio and diphtheria, have become rare in the U.S. because of vaccinations. Thanks to the Measles, Mumps, and Rubella (MMR) vaccination, cases of the viral disease mumps had become rare occurrences since the late 1960s. But there seems to be a resurgence across the U.S. and other parts of the world which is being blamed partially on the waning of vaccine-induced immunity in adults.

The CDC emphasizes that Vaccines For Children [2] (VFC) is a federally funded program that provides vaccines at no cost to children who might not otherwise be vaccinated because of inability to pay. “Vaccination coverage differences by insurance status are concerning, given that children insured by Medicaid and uninsured children are eligible for the VFC program, which was designed to remove financial barriers by providing free vaccines to program participants,” the CDC says in its new report.

Public health officials have said that misconceptions about side effects linked to childhood vaccinations may also be a factor in the rising number of unvaccinated pre-schoolers.

“There’s a lot of misconceptions about the use of vaccines and the risks of vaccines — but they have not proven to be true,” says Francisco Medina, M.D. [3], director of Pediatric Emergency Services and Chief of Pediatrics at Homestead Hospital [4]. “Part of our work is to find out if a child is up-to-date with vaccines because a child who is sick is at risk of developing one of these diseases, and then our diagnosis may change.”

Consult with your doctor if you have any questions about vaccinations for your children and teens, says Dr. Medina. He stresses that hospitals are seeing a resurgence in diseases that had become rare. The United States, for example, saw a record number of measles cases in 2014, with 668 cases from 27 states reported to the CDC. Moreover, outbreaks of whooping cough at middle and high schools have occurred.

“These are diseases we may not have seen since the 1980s and 1970s,” says Dr. Medina. “And we’re seeing some of them again. A few months ago, we had a patient with whooping cough and another patient with mumps.”

Whooping cough, a highly contagious respiratory tract infection, and the mumps, a viral infection that affects the salivary glands, are both preventable by vaccine.

“If you have a question as a parent: ‘Why should I give vaccinations to my child?’ We will try to help you,” Dr. Medina says. “If we can’t, we’ll refer you to proper documentation or references that you can check. But it makes life much easier for your child to be up-to-date with their vaccines.”