More than a quarter of American infants in 2018 had not received common childhood vaccines that protect them against diseases such as polio, tetanus, measles, mumps and chickenpox, new research from the University of Virginia School of Medicine.
Only 72.8% of infants aged 19 to 35 months had received the full set of the seven recommended vaccines, a far cry from the federal government’s target of 90%. Those less likely to complete the vaccine series include African American infants, infants born to mothers who have not completed high school, and infants from families with incomes below the federal poverty line.
Researchers warn that failure to complete the series of vaccines puts children at increased risk of infection, illness and death. It also reduces the herd immunity of the general population, which allows diseases to spread more easily.
“These findings highlight that significant disparities still exist in the protection of infants from preventable disease in the United States,” said researcher Rajesh Balkrishnan, PhD, Department of Public Health Sciences at AVU. “The low rates of seven rounds of vaccines in low-income families are discouraging, especially with federal programs such as Vaccine for Children, which provides coverage for their service.
Trends in childhood immunization
Some good news: There was a 30% increase in the total number of infants receiving the full set of vaccines between 2009 and 2018, the 10-year period investigated by researchers.
However, disparities in vaccine use widened between low-income and high-income families during this time. In 2009, families living below the federal poverty line were 9% less likely to receive the full set of vaccines than families with annual incomes over $ 75,000. In 2018, low-income families were 37% less likely to complete the vaccine series.
Researchers say the lower rate among low-income families is particularly disheartening given the availability of federal programs such as Vaccine for Children, which provides free vaccines for uninsured, underinsured, and Medicaid-eligible children.
“Free vaccination coupled with the absence of physician administration fees, coupled with potential programs that low-income families frequently access, could be a potential solution to increasing vaccination rates,” Balkrishnan said. “The role of healthcare professionals such as pharmacists could also be expanded to provide these services cost effectively.”
The study found that mothers who had not completed high school were almost 27% less likely to have their babies fully immunized than mothers with a college education. This disparity had sharply increased compared to a previous study evaluating 1995-2003. The previous study found that mothers who had not completed high school were 7.8% less likely to complete the series of vaccines.
Among African Americans, the completion of the vaccine series was significantly lower than among whites and Hispanics. Researchers call this disparity “unacceptable” and say cost-effective interventions are needed to increase vaccination rates and address vaccine reluctance.
“These findings are particularly important in the context of the current COVID pandemic,” Balkrishnan said. “Special attention must be paid to vulnerable populations to ensure availability and access to important life-saving vaccines.”
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