Maine Achieves Record High Immunization Rates for School Children

Annual survey shows over 95 percent of children attending public and private schools have received required vaccines

AUGUSTA– The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention (Maine CDC) announced today that more than 95 percent of school-age children have received all required vaccines, the first year Maine has exceeded the “herd immunity” threshold since reporting began in 2011.

The newly published Maine Annual School Assessment Survey (PDF) for the 2023–2024 school year includes vaccination and exemption rates for children in kindergarten and grades 7 and 12.

Vaccination is the best means of protecting individuals and our communities against highly infectious, vaccine preventable diseases. “Herd immunity,” also known as “population immunity” or “community immunity,” is when most of a population develops immunity from infectious disease either through vaccination or previous infection. Achieving herd immunity with safe and effective vaccines makes diseases rarer and saves lives.

“Achieving herd immunity among school children represents a pivotal success for Maine," said Jeanne Lambrew, Commissioner of the Maine Department of Health and Human Services. “Maine’s childhood vaccination rates are among the best in the nation, protecting not only our school-aged children but Maine families, communities and our state as a whole.”

“Maine has become a leader in childhood vaccination," said Dr. Puthiery Va, Director of the Maine CDC. “It couldn’t come at a better time, as the United States has already seen more measles cases in the first three months of 2024 than in all of 2023. This alarming trend highlights the importance of childhood vaccinations, which reduce the risk that Maine’s youngest residents could face from these harmful and potentially fatal diseases.”

The newly published immunization and exemption rates are available in an aggregate report (PDF) and by individual school (PDF). Maine law requires any preK-12 student enrolled in a designated public or private elementary, secondary, or special education facility for children of school age to show proof of immunization with the following vaccines or documented immunity: diphtheria/pertussis/tetanus (DTaP), polio, measles/mumps/rubella (MMR), varicella (VAR), and meningococcal meningitis (MenACWY). Maine has now reached 95% vaccination or higher for all of these illnesses among school children included in the survey.

Vaccination rates among Maine school children have improved dramatically since the 2021 implementation of the law removing religious and philosophical exemptions, which Maine voters overwhelmingly upheld in 2020. Maine reported the lowest percentage of non-medical exemptions of any state in the U.S. in the 2022–2023 school year. Prior to the implementation of the law, Maine was among the five highest states reporting non-medical exemptions for the 2018–19, 2019–20, and 2020–21 school years. National comparisons for the 2023–24 school year will be published in November.

According to the World Health Organization, the percentage of people who need to be immune in order to achieve herd immunity varies with each disease. For example, herd immunity against measles requires about 95% of a population to be vaccinated. The remaining 5% will be protected by the fact that measles will not spread among those who are vaccinated.

Achieving herd immunity helps protect those who are most vulnerable and may not be able to get vaccinated, including very young children and those who are immunocompromised. Vaccination requirements for school entry helps ensure children across all communities are up to date on their required vaccinations and aids in building community-level protection.

The Maine CDC public health nursing team is available to help schools with lower vaccination rates, including conducting on-site vaccine clinics for all school-age required vaccines. The Maine CDC highly encourages schools to take advantage of this assistance given recent outbreaks of measles in other states. Maine CDC’s public health nurses are well-equipped to help serve areas with limited provider resources or an influx of students who have previously had challenges in accessing vaccines. This public health service is provided at no cost to Maine schools or students.

Each school year, federally funded immunization programs collect and report kindergarten vaccination data to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (U.S. CDC). Federally funded immunization programs in all 50 states partner with their Departments of Education (DOE) to assess vaccination coverage and exemption status of children enrolled in public and private kindergartens. In addition to kindergartens, the Maine CDC’s Immunization Program (MIP) also collects coverage and exemption data for seventh grade students and twelfth grade students. This information is collected through an annual immunization assessment survey of all State of Maine elementary, middle, and high schools.