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Allies Huddle to Discuss State Child Immunization Trends and Strategies for Advocacy Action

In 2021, state legislatures across the country saw a wave of vaccination legislation that either banned or limited vaccine requirements. Allies discussed policy implications surrounding the increase in anti-vaccination legislation as they gear up for 2022 legislative sessions.

In February, we convened a group of state and national advocates to discuss child immunization trends in the country and their efforts to promote public health strategies to address declining immunization rates among young children.

The Georgetown Center for Children and Families (GCCF) provided data on immunization rates:

  • Before the pandemic, 88% of children were up to date on MMR vaccines in Medicaid/CHIP. Also, 69% were up to date on Combination 3, which is a series of vaccines offered by age 2.
  • There is variation in immunization trends by geographic region and certain demographics. Immunization trends were lower for children of color, in households below the poverty line, and Medicaid/CHIP enrollees.

The COVID-19 pandemic only exacerbated the decline in immunizations rate because of a significant decline in pediatric visits, which have been slow to rebound to pre-pandemic access. It is also worth noting that while other vaccination rates have decreased, administration of the Influenza vaccine has not suffered.

Much of the resistance in administering the COVID vaccine to children have been driven by a lack of access, messaging, and political beliefs. When parents were polled on their opinions on schools mandating vaccines, 73-90% supported school immunization requirements six years ago but about 65% of parents surveyed said schools should require the COVID vaccine. Moreover, 17 states have banned COVID 19 vaccination requirements for schools.

As the 2022 legislative session kicked off, many states saw a significant increase in anti-vaccine legislation. Much of the growing resistance to vaccinations appear to result from the issue becoming politicized, and it is showing up as a key campaign issue for some candidates. Allies shared strategies to defend against anti-vaccine policy and increase immunization rates. Instead of making the issue about COVID vaccines, states should protect all vaccines and increase immunization rates. For example, The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and GCCF shared an issue brief, Urgent Action Needed to Catch Up on Routine Childhood Vaccinations (July 2021), to combat anti-vaccine messaging. States should also be strategic around messaging and enlist unusual public health allies and influencers, such as the business community, chambers, religious organizations, pharmaceutical companies, and educators.

Moreover, storytelling can elevate parent and provider voices, but effective storytelling campaigns should include training. Lastly, partnering with local AAP chapters and working with pediatric and family physician groups can prove to be beneficial.

Allies should also understand historical racial inequities that impact vaccine beliefs, specifically within Indigenous and Black communities. Addressing these valid concerns and fears can help overcome vaccine hesitancy. Allies reiterated that the messenger matters and should be someone community members trust and are credible. Additionally, it is imperative not to shame those with different beliefs because it does not acknowledge historical harm caused by institutions. Relationship building should be at the campaign’s core to develop strong, trusting relationships to create bold change. 

For more information, below are a few resources that were shared during the call: