Maine's Highest-in-Nation Toddler Vax Rate

Created on: Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Great news! Maine ranked first in the nation for toddler vaccination rates in 2014, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Nearly 85 percent of Maine children ages 19 to 35 months were fully vaccinated for whooping cough, polio, measles, bacterial meningitis, hepatitis B, chickenpox and pneumococcal disease. Nationally, only 71.6 percent of children received all these vaccines.

Also, the percentage of parents opting out of mandatory school immunization has decreased, from 5.2% in the 2013-14 school year to 4.4% in 2014-15--but that’s still high enough to rank Maine 10th nationally in opt-out rate, much higher than the national average of 1.7 percent. Philosophical exemptions in Maine fell from 766 in 2012-13 to 504 during the last school year, according to the CDC report.

Maine law requires that kindergarten students be vaccinated against whooping cough, diphtheria, tetanus, measles, mumps, rubella, polio and chickenpox.

Maine is among 18 states that allow parents to exempt their children from school-required immunizations for philosophical reasons. The majority of exemptions in Maine are for philosophical reasons, not medical or religious. During the last school year, 84 percent of exemptions for kindergarten students were for philosophical reasons, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. Ten percent were for religious reasons and 5 percent were based on a medical condition.

Both the Bangor Daily News and the Portland Press Herald have taken editorial positions calling for the elimination of philosophical exemptions, and there is some public interest in eliminating religious exemptions as well.

This past school year, Maine had twice as many cases of chickenpox among schoolchildren than it did the year before. State officials say more than two-thirds of the infections were among children who were not vaccinated or had not received the full course of vaccines.

 “These results are a cause for celebration and reflect an effective partnership that has been built across the state to address this important health issue,” said Kenneth Albert, Director and Chief Operating Officer of the Maine Center for Disease Control. “Our success can be attributed to the hard work of clinicians, partners, educators and funders who have collectively made the vaccination of Maine’s children a public health priority.”

While the decrease in unvaccinated children is good news, Maine’s opt-out rate still is too high. Much work still must be done to spread the message of vaccination benefits, especially among school-age children. The Maine Medical Association continues to work with a variety of medical and citizen groups from all parts of Maine to increase and solidify the protection of all Maine people from preventable, communicable diseases.


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