CDC Says Child Vaccination Exemptions Hit All-Time High

2 min read

Nov. 10, 2023 -- The CDC said 3% of children starting kindergarten in the 2022-2023 school year received an exemption from one of the four key vaccines—the highest exemption rate ever reported in the United States.

Of the 3% of children who got exemptions, 0.2% were for medical reasons and 2.8% for non-medical reasons, the CDC report said. The overall exemption rate was 2.6% for the previous school year. 

Though more children received exemptions, the overall national vaccination rate remained steady at 93% for children entering kindergarten for the 2022-2023 school year. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the overall rate was 95%, the CDC said.

“The bad news is that it’s gone down since the pandemic and still hasn’t rebounded,” Sean O’Leary, MD, a University of Colorado pediatric infectious diseases specialist, told The Associated Press. “The good news is that the vast majority of parents are still vaccinating their kids according to the recommended schedule.”

The CDC report did not offer a specific reason for higher vaccine exemptions. But it did note that the increase could be caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and COVID vaccine hesitancy. 

"There is a rising distrust in the health care system," Amna Husain, MD, a pediatrician in private practice in North Carolina and a spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics, told NBC News. Vaccine exemptions "have unfortunately trended upward with it."

Exemption rates varied across the nation. The CDC said 40 states reported a rise in exemptions and that the exemption rate went over 5% in 10 states: Alaska, Arizona, Hawaii, Idaho, Michigan, Nevada, North Dakota, Oregon, Utah, and Wisconsin. Idaho had the highest exemption rate in 2022 with 12%.

While requirements vary from state to state, most states require students entering kindergarten to receive four vaccines: measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR); diphtheria, tetanus, and acellular pertussis (DTaP); polio; and chickenpox.