America’s ‘complete immunization status’ is getting a new definition

The definition of “fully vaccinated” is changing for the sixth time since 2000, and the changes could well affect how you decide whether or not to immunize your kids.

Every state in the United States has laws that provide a single list of vaccines for children on which the parent must sign to receive a child’s health benefits. Parents wanting to have their children’s coverage for an extra vaccine—usually a measles, mumps and rubella booster—must ask permission from their pediatrician, and that request must be made at least 14 days before a doctor is scheduled to see their child.

This list, known as the “complete immunization status,” says a child must be “fully vaccinated,” meaning the entire series of vaccines for a given disease has been completed. Some states, including Washington, have changed the criteria to cover some additional vaccines.

A recent report in The Journal of Infectious Diseases identifies many states that are including more vaccines than previous lists did, though others are continuing to keep a low percentage of vaccines covered.

Who’s most likely to get caught up?

Researchers at the Georgia research firm Ambassadors found that the Washington, D.C., area had the highest rate of vaccinations in the study, but that much of that change could simply be an increase in who’s paying attention to those who request a full immunization status.

Before 2000, large parts of Texas and Arizona had low immunization rates, and that meant children were at increased risk of sickness. Of the states which have changed their law since the 2000-2000 list to include more vaccines, Texas had the lowest immunization rate as recently as 2014. Then California implemented a similar law in 2016, and over the course of 2017 California’s immunization rate soared. That state still has the lowest rate.

The five states that had the greatest increases in children’s immunization rates include Nevada, Louisiana, South Carolina, Arizona and Washington. All of those states have similar medical coverage and fee structures.

The states whose immunization rates remain flat, or even decrease, include Connecticut, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Vermont and Maine. All of those states have fee structures similar to Georgia’s, except for Vermont’s state-funded vaccination program. Virginia has not made changes to its immunization list.

Why all the changes?

For the first time, researchers mapped out the geographical differences in the U.S. by looking at immunization rates, which could potentially lead to changes in state funding for immunizations.

Georgia saw a reduction in immunization rates when the state legislature began setting mandatory data for the databases used for determining a state’s funding. Changes to Georgia’s list led the researchers to find major increases in immunization rates across the state, even in some areas that previously had low immunization rates.

The changing standard for “fully vaccinated” is the latest target for those who want to decrease the number of vaccinations required of children in schools. In March 2017, a California bill pushed by legislative sponsors Barbara Kanninen and Ted Lieu would have lowered the number of vaccinations required to enroll a child in a private school. The bill was approved in the California Assembly, but quickly killed in the Senate Education Committee.

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