Where the US is falling short protecting infants with common vaccinations

About 25% of America’s infants are not getting recommended vaccinations to protect them against ailments such as polio, tetanus and chickenpox, according to research done at the University of Virginia School of Medicine.

“In the past decade, we’ve made a lot of progress. We have gone from just over 50% to close to 75% now — with regards to complete infant vaccinations,” Raj Balkrishnan, U.Va. School of Medicine professor of Public Health Sciences, said.

“But we are below much of the other developed countries in the world which average close to 100%,” he said.

Balkrishnan said parents failing to fully immunize their children might worry about the cost, not realizing vaccines are free. Most insurance, such as Medicaid, will cover the cost of the doctor’s visit, and vaccines can be administered by pharmacists.

“Patients who live in rural areas, parents who have lower education, belong to racial ethnic minorities — they are less likely to immunize their infants,” he said.

Balkrishnan has a doctorate in public health. He believes educating people about the need to immunize children and the importance of vaccinations should begin at the high school level.

“Every year in this country we do see an outbreak of measles or mumps, which is very shocking because one would think that these types of diseases had been eradicated,” Balkrishnan said. “I actually am a bit afraid given the sort of compromised immunity with the COVID-19 pandemic and everything, we’re going to see a resurgence of these types of conditions again.”

Many of the childhood vaccines have been available for several decades and have been shown to be completely safe and effective to protect against potentially deadly diseases.

“If something is safe and effective and is available freely, I think you should take advantage of that, especially for your children,” he said. “You owe it to yourself and your children to get them vaccinated before they turn three.”

Kristi King

Kristi King is a veteran reporter who has been working in the WTOP newsroom since 1990. She covers everything from breaking news to consumer concerns and the latest medical developments.

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