More than 25% of children in the United States do not receive the necessary vaccinations. These are often babies born into low-income, low-education households.
In the United States, not all states require the same childhood immunizations. However, most states require vaccination against hepatitis B, diphtheria, tetanus, polio, measles, mumps, rubella, and chickenpox. But parents can easily get an exemption for religious, medical, philosophical, or personal reasons. As a result, according to a study just published in the journal Health Equity, more than a quarter of U.S. infants had not received mandatory childhood vaccinations in 2018. While the federal government counted on 90% of infants being vaccinated, only 72.8% of infants aged 19-35 months had received the full set of vaccines. While the numbers are still too low, during the period studied by the researchers, between 2009 and 2018, there was a 30 percent increase in the total number of infants receiving the full set of vaccines.
Economic factors alone do not explain non-vaccination
The scientists analyzed the socioeconomic background of these unvaccinated children. A large proportion of them was of African-American descent, born to mothers who had not completed high school, and/or came from families with incomes below the federal poverty line. “These results highlight that large disparities in protecting infants from preventable diseases continue to exist in the United States,” said Rajesh Balkrishnan, one of the study’s authors. It is disheartening that low-income families have such low rates of use of these vaccines, especially since there are federal programs, such as Vaccine for Children, that provide this service to them free of charge.”
Federal programs provide needed vaccines for free
Vaccine for Children is a federally funded program in the U.S. It was established in the 1990s and provides these needed vaccines free of charge to uninsured children, children without adequate insurance, and children who are eligible for Medicaid. But despite these services, in the decade the scientists studied, the gap between high- and low-income families has widened, to the detriment of the poorest of the poor. In 2018, babies born to families below the federal poverty line were 37% less likely to receive the full set of vaccines than babies in families with annual incomes above $75,000. In 2009, that rate was much lower: 9%.
Lack of information leads to reluctance to vaccinate
In addition to financial resources, according to the researchers, education plays an increasingly important role in the decision to vaccinate or not. According to their findings, mothers who had not completed secondary education were 27% less likely to fully vaccinate their children than women who had continued their education.
African-American children the least vaccinated
The final finding of the study is that African-American infants are vaccinated less often than others. The scientists do not give exact figures but note that the reasons may be related to several deficiencies. African-American households may not have sufficient access to care, especially preventive care, may not have sufficient trust in the health care system, and may not understand or appreciate the risks and benefits of vaccination. Researchers point out that not vaccinating children exposes them to deadly diseases. In addition, the fewer infants vaccinated in a generation, the lower the herd immunity of the entire population, allowing diseases to spread.
These findings are especially important in the context of the current Covid-19 pandemic,” says Balkrishnan. Special attention must be paid to vulnerable populations to ensure that they have access to these crucial, life-saving vaccines. To date, 246 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in the United States.