PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Despite vaccination rates for kindergartens declining nationwide since the coronavirus pandemic, rates have held relatively steady in Rhode Island.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention requires all states to report kindergarten vaccination rates, as that’s typically when most children enter the school system and are required to get vaccines for ailments including measles, mumps and rubella. And most health officials said the preventative medicine is paramount to ensuring good health across age groups.

“We are very lucky to live in this day and age to have vaccines to protect us against so many different things,” Lifespan pediatrician Dr. Elizabeth Lange told Target 12.

But there’s been a slight downtick in kindergarten vaccination rates nationwide since the pandemic, as the topic became hotly contested and a point of mass debate during the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines.

According to data from the CDC, vaccination rates for kindergarteners has typically hovered between 94% and 95% across the country. but in the 2021-2022 school year the rate declined to 93%. Lange said the pandemic is likely a cause.

“Since the pandemic a lot of people have questioned science more and questioned medicine more and that’s ok — those are good conversations to have,” Lange said.

But it’s a different story in Rhode Island.

According to data from the R.I. Department of Health, public and charter school vaccination rates for kindergarten have remained relatively steady since the pandemic with more than 95% of children being vaccinated.

Rhode Island also had the highest kindergarten vaccination rate for the measles, mumps and rubella in New England in 2022.

Lange said families who decide not to get their children vaccinated run the risk of experiencing an outbreak of certain illnesses.

“We have seen in the news that there are measles outbreaks across the country when there are pockets of people who are unimmunized,” she explained.

Some families choose to opt out of getting their child vaccinated, citing health or religious exemptions, the latter of which has also become more common in some areas since the pandemic.

Lange said health exemptions are rare since a child needs to have a specific medical condition to make a child ineligible to get a vaccine. And the circumstances are limited.

“It could be that child is undergoing cancer treatment and their immune system is compromised because of that cancer treatment or the child has developed an allergic reaction to that vaccine,” Lange said.

Religious exemptions, however, are a different story and have become slightly more popular in recent years. There has been a minor increase in religious exemptions in public schools since 2020, and a slightly larger increase in private schools.

In the 2020-2021 school year, 1.4% of private students had a religious exemption. That grew to 2.5% in the 2022-2023 school year, according to health officials.

Deborah O’Leary, whose son is in his late 20’s, said she believes her son became sick when he was younger from vaccines. She told Target 12 she is not an anti-vaxxer, but she wants families to do their research and make decisions that are best for their loved ones.

“Ask a lot of questions like, ‘What’s in this vaccine besides the antigens’ — the active ingredient that gives you the immunity,” she said. “Ask if you can spread them out, ask if your doctor has seen a child have an adverse event.”

Lange advises families to consult their doctor before making any decisions.

Sarah Guernelli ( is the consumer investigative reporter for 12 News. Connect with her on Twitter and on Facebook.