Elizabeth (Izzy) Montgomery, MPA
As families prepare for the start of school this month, it is important to ensure that children’s vaccines are up to date to protect themselves, classmates, family members, and the community. Arkansas law requires that students who attend public or private schools or childcare facilities receive routine vaccinations.
Routine vaccinations are vitally important for children. As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes, on-time vaccinations help children build immunity to potentially life-threatening viruses before they are exposed. Vaccines go through extensive testing to ensure they are both safe and effective for children to receive.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, many routine vaccinations for children were delayed. According to data recently published by the World Health Organization, global vaccination coverage declined throughout 2021, with approximately 25 million children missing one or more doses of the diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (DTP3) vaccination. A study published in JAMA Pediatrics found that across eight health systems in six states, childhood vaccination rates and the proportion of children up to date on vaccinations as of September 2020 were lower than in 2019.
According to the latest year of data available from America’s Health Rankings (2017–2018), 73.6% of children aged 35 months in Arkansas had received all recommended doses of the seven-vaccine series recommended by the CDC. Arkansas fell slightly below the U.S. average of 75.4%, with the best-performing state being Massachusetts at 92.3%. The worst-performing state was Alaska at 64.6%.
In 2016 and 2017, Arkansas experienced a mumps outbreak with nearly 3,000 cases, many of which were among school students. Because of the outbreak, the Arkansas Department of Health required students with exemptions to the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine to be excluded from school for 26 days if they were exposed to the virus.
The Arkansas Department of Health has published a chart (pages 7 and 8) with immunization requirements for public school children in the state.
Parents also have the option of getting their kids vaccinated against COVID-19 if they are at least 6 months old. In a recent interview with the Eureka Springs Independent, ACHI President and CEO Dr. Joe Thompson offered advice for parents who are weighing this decision ahead of the new school year.