Colorado school vaccination, exemption rates difficult to analyze


The number of childhood vaccinations during the COVID-19 pandemic has dropped by nearly a fifth in Colorado, potentially putting the state at risk for another public health crisis, state health officials warned Friday.

There was a 19% average drop in vaccinations from mid-March through mid-July when compared to the year prior, officials said in a videoconference about the importance of keeping up with childhood vaccinations. 

The decline "puts us at risk for another public health crisis — one in which serious, preventable diseases like measles and pertussis can resurge," said Dr. Rachel Herlihy, an epidemiologist with the state health department.

Saying that pediatricians' offices are safe to visit, officials urged parents to keep up with their children's vaccines, stressing their importance for personal and community protection.

Vaccines remain vital even for children taking most classes online this fall.

"We don't want to see a resurgence of measles, mumps or rubella when we're in the middle of a pandemic," said Haley Houtchens, a school nurse consultant with Children's Hospital Colorado. "It's just not safe."

Officials also urged parents to get flu shots for children,.

Hospitals could be squeezed this fall and winter by  COVID-19 and the seasonal flu, which are "essentially impossible" to tell apart without tests.

Dr. Sean O'Leary, a professor of pediatrics at CU Anschutz and Children's Hospital Colorado, called the mingling of flu season with the pandemic a "nightmare scenario."

"We don't want hospital capacity being challenged by these two illnesses at once," Herlihy said. "We don't want to go backward in our immunity."

Based on data pulled prior to local onset of the pandemic, the state health department exceeded its one-year goal to increase the number of kindergartners vaccinated for measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) by June 30. Nearly 4% more children were vaccinated during the 2019-2020 school year when compared to the prior year, bringing the state's kindergarten rate for that vaccination to 91%.

Measles is highly infectious, with each infected person transmitting it, on average, to 12-18 people. That's nearly triple the transmission rate for coronavirus. .

Other vaccines saw their rates of use increase for children by between 2.1% and 3.6%, officials said.

The state aims to increase the percentage of kindergartners who receive the vaccine for measles mumps and rubella to 95% by June 2021, officials said.

The Vaccines for Children program provides vaccines to eligible children. for information, visit

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