Child vaccines: 6 key takeaways from our investigation into resistance

An ongoing measles outbreak in the Columbus area has public health officials locally reminding parents to get their children vaccinated against measles.

Earlier this year, Dayton Daily News healthcare reporter Samantha Wildow and contributing database reporter Julia Haines used Ohio public records law to obtain data from the Ohio Department of Health on how many children at Ohio’s schools had required vaccines against contagious diseases such as measles and polio.

Their findings are cause for concern, according to health department officials and infectious disease experts.

Here is a summary of their key findings:

1. Hesitancy growing

The percentage of parents filing moral or religious exemptions to allow their kindergarten children to attend school without required vaccines increased statewide last year, our investigation found. At 14 area schools, at least 14% of kindergarteners’ parents filed moral vaccine exemptions. You can search vaccination rates at every elementary school in Ohio here.

2. Pandemic impacted vaccine reluctance

Opposition to getting children vaccinated against diseases like measles and polio increased during the pandemic. Some believe hesitancy regarding the COVID-19 vaccine led parents to hold off on getting their kids the more traditional vaccines. “There has been a growing national trend of vaccine distrust that resulted from the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccines. More and more parents are directly correlating their beliefs about COVID-19 vaccines with routine childhood vaccinations, such as polio or rubella,” said Springfield schools spokeswoman Jenna Leinasars.

3. Exemptions highest in rural areas

The seven school districts the newspaper found with district-wide kindergarten vaccine exemption rates over 10% all serve rural areas. COVID-19 vaccinations have also nationally been lower in rural areas compared to urban areas with 48% in rural areas versus 61% in metropolitan areas, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

4. Ohio makes exemptions easy

Ohio is among the easiest states for families to opt their children out of the immunizations required for school, offering parents the chance to submit written statements opposing vaccinations for religious and/or personal moral objections. While 44 states and Washington, D.C. allow religious exemptions for vaccinations, Ohio is among 15 states to go a step further and allow personal philosophy exemptions.

5. Cause for concern

Infectious disease experts and public health officials are concerned. Many area communities are dropping below herd immunity, increasing the risk that infectious diseases not often seen anymore could return. “We have seen an uptick in pertussis, mumps, measles, and other vaccine-preventable diseases across Ohio,” said Charles Patterson, health commissioner with the Clark County Combined Health District. “Many people have never experienced or seen the devastating effects of some of these vaccine-preventable diseases and therefore don’t always make a well informed decision about the possible consequences of declining to have their children vaccinated.”

6. Yellow Springs bucking trend

Seven years after the Dayton Daily News reported that Yellow Springs Exempted Village School District had more kindergarteners exempted from childhood vaccines on moral grounds than any other districts in the state, the number dropped last year to zero. Josué Salmerón, Yellow Springs village manager, deferred to the district in regard to youth vaccinations, but he noted, “Our community was very receptive of COVID vaccines, and this sentiment might apply to other vaccines.”


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