Through mid-July, more than 150 potential COVID-19 vaccines were in the process of development and testing, with nearly two dozen undergoing clinical trials in countries around the world. How soon a potential vaccine will be fully approved for use in humans is up for speculation and debate, but Dr. Anthony Fauci, the leading U.S. infectious disease expert, says it’s probable a vaccine would be cleared for use by the end of this year. That projection would seem like welcome news in the U.S., where more than 135,000 people have died from the virus, and across the globe, where some 13.5 million people have been infected and nearly 600,000 have died.
But how many of us would actually get the vaccine if it were available?
An ABC/Washington Post poll conducted in early June found that about 71% of U.S. adults said they definitely or probably would get the vaccine. Of course, what people say in a survey isn’t always reflective of their behavior in real life. We wanted to understand where in the U.S. current vaccine rates are highest and lowest and how those rates have changed over time to see if we could get a window into how people might respond to a future COVID-19 vaccine.
Generally, vaccine rates are highest for the shots recommended for babies and toddlers. Overall, an average of 85% of infants and toddlers between the ages of newborn and 35 months have received the recommended DTaP, MMR, varicella and polio vaccines, though this varies considerably across the country.
According to data from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, uptake of the polio vaccine in children is the highest among the four major childhood vaccines, with an average of 90% of children receiving the recommended doses by about their third year of age.
Average childhood vaccination uptake is highest in Massachusetts and Connecticut, where more than 90% have received the four major childhood vaccines; the lowest average rate is in Alaska, where only about 79% of children have received all their recommended vaccines.
Childhood Vaccines, a Closer Look
Let’s take a look at the highest and lowest rates at which DTaP, MMR, varicella and polio vaccines are administered to children.
DTaP, often called DTP, is a combination vaccine against three infectious diseases — diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis, often called whooping cough. An average of 85% of U.S. children had received the recommended doses for their ages in the CDC’s most recent report, which includes children born between 2011 and 2016.
MMR vaccines guard against measles, mumps and rubella, an average of 83% of children 3 and under have received the recommended doses of this vaccine, among those born between 2011 and 2016.
Varicella is more commonly known as chickenpox, and people up to age 13 who haven’t had chickenpox can potentially get the vaccine. An average of about 82% of babies and toddlers born between 2011 and 2016 had received the recommended dose according to the CDC’s most recent publication on the subject.
The polio vaccine prevents transmission of the crippling and potentially deadly disease that was quite common in the U.S. until the middle part of the 20th century. An average of nearly 90% of children born between 2011 and 2016 have received the recommended doses for their age.
Childhood vaccine rates have risen slightly since 2011, though many states have seen rates decline. But looking at average rates across the country, use of the polio vaccine has risen modestly, which shouldn’t be surprising considering that it already was the most widely accepted childhood immunization.
Teen & Adult Vaccinations
Young children aren’t the only ones for whom vaccines are recommended. In fact, health officials have long urged every healthy person in the country to receive a seasonal flu vaccine, but less than half of adults tend to get it in an average season.
HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the world, and researchers believe that almost all sexually active people will contract at least one strain in their lifetimes. While only a few strains of the virus are harmful, those are particularly dangerous strains of the virus, and HPV is the primary cause of several types of cancer.
A vaccine to prevent HPV was introduced in the United States in 2006, and the most recent CDC publication shows that in 2018, an average of 60% of those between the ages of 13 and 17 were up to date on the vaccine. Compliance with the HPV vaccine is highest in Rhode Island (89.3%) and lowest in Mississippi (51.7%).
In most states, usage of the HPV vaccine has risen over the past few years, with rates dropping in only two states — Maine and New York.
Infections of the pneumococcus bacteria include pneumonia, meningitis and ear/sinus infections. The most serious of these for the majority of people is pneumonia, which is a top 10 cause of death in the United States.
Pneumococcal vaccination is recommended for those under 2 years of age or over 65, and an average of about 73% of older adults had received the vaccine in 2018, the most recent year for which data is available. Uptake of the vaccine is highest in New Hampshire (78.6%) and lowest in New York (64%).
Unlike most of the other vaccines discussed here, flu shots must be repeated every year, as the variants released depend on the strains that researchers believe will be most prominent during any given flu season.
An estimated 46% of U.S. adults received a seasonal flu vaccine during the 2018-19 flu season, according to CDC data, though older adults were much more likely to get a flu shot to the tune of about 68%. About 56% of Rhode Island adults got their flu shots during that season, the highest rate in the country, compared with about 34% of Nevada adults.
Just over half of states have seen flu shot uptake rise over the past five years, with Wisconsin posting the biggest increase, 21.6%.
Current Vaccine Use & COVID-19
So what does any of this mean for how likely it will be that large swaths of those who are eligible to get a vaccine for the novel coronavirus won’t do it? It’s clear that residents in some states simply are less comfortable being vaccinated or getting their children vaccinated.
While the COVID picture changes rapidly, several states have consistently been considered hotspots for the virus. Let’s compare overall vaccine use to per-capita COVID-19 deaths (as reported by the CDC).
Rhode Island has the best overall compliance with the vaccines discussed in this report, and the state has the fourth-highest rate of COVID-19 deaths per 100,000 people outside of New York City. On the other hand, New Jersey, which has the highest death rate among all states, has one of the worst records of vaccine uptake.
Of the 10 states with the highest confirmed COVID-19 cases per 100,000, in only three of them did half of adults receive the seasonal flu vaccine during the 2018-19 flu season.
As scientists race to create a vaccine for COVID-19, it’s worth taking a step back to see how enthusiastic Americans have been in recent years about other vaccines and inoculations that have long been available. Whether those rates are predictive of eventual COVID vaccine uptake remains to be seen.
Links to all sources have been provided in the content. Data on vaccine rates comes from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which maintains dashboards of state vaccine rates. You can access data about many other types of vaccines and how popular they have been over the years by exploring the tabs on this site.
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