Childhood immunizations show big declines in Florida

State report shows immunization rates among schoolkids dropping, with more parents than ever claiming religious and medical exemptions.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — A new report by the state Department of Health shows required immunizations among kindergarteners and seventh graders hit a 10-year low.

Even among that statewide decline, Duval County is an outlier, with numbers so low, the report says it’s “affecting county and statewide out-of-compliance rates.”

Duval is the only county in the state with fewer than 90 percent of seventh grade students vaccinated as required. Just 82.5 percent of public schools seventh graders had competed their vaccine requirements in the 2021-22 school year. The statewide goal is 95 percent.

Florida immunization rates have declined as the number of exemptions has soared during the COVID pandemic. Schools are required to track immunization records for both kindergarteners and seventh graders, and report that information annually to the Department of Health.

According to the new DOH data, the number of Florida kindergarteners claiming a religious exemption from required immunizations is the highest in state history, and the percentage claiming temporary medical exemptions is the highest in a decade.

Among Florida seventh graders, the percentage claiming a religious exemption is also the highest on record, and percentage with a 30-day exemption (granted by schools, typically for students moving or in transition) is the highest in eight years.

First Coast News reached out to Duval Country Public Schools for comment.

Duval County was a hotspot for controversy during COVID as parents pushed back on COVID related mandates, including masks.

This summer, the World Health Organization reported the largest sustained decline in childhood vaccinations in approximately 30 years. The agency warned global vaccination rates continued to drop in 2021, with 25 million infants missing out potentially lifesaving vaccines. 

Though U.S. vaccination rates have declined less precipitously than in other countries, experts say increased vaccine hesitancy could bring a resurgence of previously controlled diseases.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends all children receive a schedule of vaccines that are both safe and proven to prevent a raft of illnesses, including chickenpox, measles, tetanus, hepatitis, diphtheria and polio.

According to CDC data, some 211,000 kindergarteners did not have all their required vaccines last year, down by about 10 percent from 2019.

Medical experts have already seen a resurgence of the measles, a highly contagious virus which can be fatal in some cases.

You can find a schedule of recommended CDC vaccines here. 

Experts have already seen a resurgence of the measles, a highly contagious virus which can be fatal in some cases.

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