Child vaccination rates drop during pandemic, health officials worried

Updated: Jun. 21, 2020 at 8:03 PM CDT
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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - A decline in pediatric care during the pandemic has put a lot of children behind the curve on routine vaccinations, a trend that could put the community at risk.

“We know that nationally, immunization rates have plummeted over the past three months,” said State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris. “Kids are getting about half of the immunizations that they have to get.”

Numbers from the Centers for Disease Control show that child vaccination efforts nearly ground to a halt between March 13, when the national state of emergency was declared, and April 19.

“People just don’t want to take their kids to the doctor,” said Harris. “They are worried about it or they’re just sheltered at home or they’ve got other things to do. A lot of people are out of work and maybe they don’t have coverage to go get shots for their kids. And when kids are not in school or having to go to school they don’t have to be up to date.”

As states decide to reopen schools and daycare centers, children behind on their shots could pose a threat to themselves and others. Doctors say the decline in vaccinations has left millions of children of all ages at an increased risk for developing vaccine-preventable diseases.

“For those parents who have children that require vaccinations it’s important that we vaccinate for their own protection and safety from the diseases such as diphtheria, whooping cough, measles and mumps,” said Dr. Albert Holloway, a pediatrician at Payne and Holloway Pediatrics in Montgomery. “All of these diseases also have a mortality rate and we don’t want to see a return of these diseases.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Vaccine Safety Datalink shows an almost 50 percent drop in children being vaccinated for measles during the first quarter of 2020, compared with the same period in 2019.

“If people don’t get their vaccinations we might get what we call herd immunity,” said Dr. Holloway. “Herd immunity says that the population has to have at least 90 to 95 percent immunization rate to consider those diseases not present. So if we drop below that, that leaves a chance for us seeing a return of these diseases.”

With the coronavirus pandemic already stressing health-care resources, doctors say the last thing America needs is a surge in another deadly disease.

Harris said you should have a conversation with your health care provider before making an appointment during the pandemic, but that generally speaking there is no need to fear making a visit.

Harris said the Alabama Department of Public Health is working with the Alabama Chapter of the American Association of Pediatrics to contact families that are past due on their vaccinations.

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