NEW YORK -- Vaccination rates for U.S. kindergartners dropped again last year and federal officials are starting a new campaign to try to bring them up.
Usually, 94% to 95% of kindergartners are vaccinated against measles, tetanus and certain other diseases. The vaccination rates dropped below 94% in the 2020-21 school year -- the first year of the covid-19 pandemic.
A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study released Thursday found rates dropped again in the 2021-22 school year, to about 93%.
The pandemic disrupted vaccinations and other routine health care for children, and also taxed the ability of school administrators and nurses to track which children weren't up-to-date on shots. CDC officials said decreased confidence in vaccines is another likely contributor.
Health officials focus on kindergarten because it's when most children enter school systems. Public schools typically require vaccinations as a condition of attendance, though some exemptions are allowed.
Such exemptions were up slightly last school year, but the CDC's Shannon Stokley said they are not the main driver of the decrease. Rather, more schools relaxed their policies to allow enrollment while giving families a grace period to get shots, she said.
The new numbers suggest that as many as 275,000 kindergartners lack full vaccine protection.
Falling vaccination rates open the door to outbreaks of diseases once thought to be in the rearview mirror, experts say. They point to a case of paralytic polio reported last year in New York, and to recent measles surges in Minnesota and Ohio.
Those outbreaks coincide with anecdotal and survey information suggesting more parents are questioning bedrock childhood vaccines long celebrated as public health success stories. CDC data reflected that.
The chickenpox vaccination rate fell more sharply than the rate for shots against measles, mumps and rubella.
This week, the CDC launched a campaign called "Let's RISE" -- an acronym for Routine Immunizations on Schedule for Everyone. It includes new educational materials to help doctors talk to families about vaccinations, as well as information for families who have questions about the shots.