Connecticut was among a small number of states that defied a national trend of declining kindergarten vaccination rates, according to a report by the Centers for Disease Control, which found parents around the country opting their kids out of vaccines at historic rates.
The CDC report, dated Friday, found that exemption rates to childhood vaccination requirements for preventable diseases like measles increased in 40 states, pushing the national exemption rate to 3% — an all-time high — during the 2022-2023 school year.
“It is not clear whether this reflects a true increase in opposition to vaccination, or if parents are opting for nonmedical exemptions because of barriers to vaccination or out of convenience,” the report’s authors wrote, noting that exemption rates exceeded 5% in 10 states.
Meanwhile, childhood vaccine exemptions declined in Connecticut by 1.5% to just .8% between the 2021–22 and 2022–23 school years. Connecticut’s decline in exemptions was the largest decrease observed in the CDC report.
The change coincides with implementation of a state law, passed in 2021, which phased out a longstanding exemption that allowed parents to opt children out of vaccine requirements by citing religious opposition to vaccines.
State policymakers adopted the controversial bill in response to what had been a steady increase in the number of parents using the exemption. At the time of the bill’s passage, proponents said that 22% of kindergarten classes were below the 95% vaccination rate necessary for community immunity against measles, mumps and rubella.
In August, at the start of the current academic year, the state Public Health Department issued a press release reminding parents to stay up-to-date on their childrens’ immunizations and touting an increase in vaccination rates among kindergarteners.
“The good news is that Connecticut school immunization rates are rebounding,” the agency said in the release. “The percentage of Connecticut kindergarten students receiving required measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine in the 2022–2023 school year is 97.3%.”
The change in Connecticut’s exemption policy is not without its detractors. Thousands of protesters demonstrated outside the state Capitol as legislators passed the bill and the new law continues to be challenged by lawsuits in state and federal courts. Judges have so far upheld the constitutionality of the law.