Story at a glance

  • Childhood vaccinations prevent illnesses like polio, tetanus and measles.
  • A new study found that more than a quarter of infants are not completing all their vaccinations.
  • African American infants, infants of mothers with less than a high school education and infants in low-income households are at the greatest risk for not completing the vaccine series.

While many are thinking about vaccine uptake for COVID-19, a group of researchers are worried about common vaccinations for children that may also be affected by inequity and lack of access. A new study published in Health Equity found that more than a quarter of infants in the U.S. in 2018 did not receive the common childhood vaccinations for illnesses like polio, tetanus, measles, mumps and chickenpox.

Infants get vaccinated for these illnesses in a specific order in the first years of life. The study found that the rate of completing the seven vaccine series was 72.8 percent at 19 to 35 months of age, which is well below the target of 90 percent. African American and Black babies, infants born to mothers with less than a high school education and infants in families that are below the poverty line were less likely to complete the series.

“These findings highlight that significant disparities still exist in protecting infants from preventable diseases in the United States,” says researcher Rajesh Balkrishnan of University of Virginia’s Department of Public Health Sciences in a press release. “The low seven-vaccine series rates in low-income families are disheartening, especially with federal programs such as Vaccine for Children, which provides coverage for their service.”

The researchers found that, although the total number of children getting vaccines increased from 2009 to 2018, the disparity in vaccine uptake between low-income and high-income families grew in that same time period. Mothers who had not completed high school were 27 percent less likely to have their children fully vaccinated than people with a college education. A previous study from 1995-2003 put that number at 7.8 percent.


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The authors offer some suggestions on how to close that gap.

“Free vaccination coupled with no physician administration fees, linked with potential programs that are frequently accessed by low-income families, could be a potential solution to increase immunization rates,” Balkrishnan says in the press release. “The role of healthcare professionals such as pharmacists could also be expanded to provide these services cost effectively.”

Because gathering this type of data takes time, there is a long-time lag for analyzing it. For more recent years — especially 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic — the situation may have changed and potentially worsened for people who have less access to health care and services. “These findings are particularly important in the context of the current COVID pandemic,” Balkrishnan said. “Particular attention needs to be paid to vulnerable populations in ensuring the availability and access to important life-saving vaccines.”


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Published on May 04, 2021