The Number of Children Going Completely Unvaccinated Was Up in 2017

The Associated Press reported today that the number of infants getting no vaccinations rose in 2017. Here are the numbers from the CDC:

Obviously any increase is cause for concern, and in relative terms you can say that the number of kids going completely unvaccinated rose by a third. Still, in absolute terms that’s an increase of only 0.3 percent. It could easily just be an outlier.

However, it’s a handy excuse to look at the number of kids who are getting vaccinated—that is, getting the complete series of recommended childhood vaccines—and how that varies between demographic groups. Apologies for the busy chart, but here you go:

There’s weird news and bad news here. The bad news is that the number of kids getting the full series of recommended childhood vaccines has flattened out at around 70 percent since 2011. This is mostly due to the low takeup of the Hepatitis A vaccine and the rotavirus vaccine, so get cracking, parents! There’s no need for your baby to contract Hep A from contaminated food or a stomach inflammation from a rotavirus.

The weird news is that the difference between demographic groups is…strange. The difference between racial groups is fairly small: 65 percent for blacks, 70 percent for Hispanics, and 75 percent for whites. And even that’s probably overstated since the vaccination rate for blacks in 2016 looks like an outlier. I’ll bet it’s probably closer to 70 percent.¹ I call this good news because it’s better than I expected.

It’s also generally good news that the vaccination rate for children in poverty is about the same as it is for everyone else. But there’s one huge exception: whites. The vaccination rate for most whites is 75 percent. The vaccination rate for whites below the poverty level is 60 percent. That’s a gigantic difference that opened up between 2009 and 2011 and hasn’t gone away since. Among both blacks and Hispanics, the difference is close to zero.

I’m hard put to come up with even a wacky theory to account for this. The trendline is very robust, so it’s not just a strange one-year outlier. Anyone feel like hazarding a guess? We all promise not to laugh.

¹Unless something big happened in the black community in 2016 to make them more suspicious of vaccinations. Feel free to clue me in if this is the case.

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