Childhood vaccine rates plummet amid coronavirus pandemic, risking new health crisis

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Childhood vaccine rates for preventable diseases like measles and whooping cough have fallen during the COVID-19 pandemic, raising the possibility of an additional health crisis.

In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) on Wednesday said the number of vaccine doses administered from March 23 to May 9 fell 63 percent compared with the same period last year.

In children older than 2 years, it fell 91 percent, de Blasio said.

“The reasons are obvious. Doctors offices have been closed, families are staying home, it makes sense that even parents, grandparents, guardians, others might not have known where to turn or might have been hesitant to go out,” de Blasio said during his daily briefing with reporters.

An unvaccinated child is at greater risk of contracting a disease like measles that could then put the child at a greater risk of contracting COVID-19, he said.

“The bottom line to all parents, family members out there, get your child vaccinated,” de Blasio said, adding that the city is in a much better situation with regard to the coronavirus than it was in March. 

“This is essential work. Getting your child vaccinated is a reason to leave your home, and whatever it takes to get your child to that vaccination is worth it,” he said.

The numbers in New York match a national trend. 

According to data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) earlier this month, vaccine rates had been declining gradually during the first two months of 2020 compared to the same period in 2019. 

But they plummeted the week after President Trump declared a national emergency on March 13. 

The data show from mid-March to mid-April, doctors in the federally funded Vaccines for Children program for the uninsured ordered about 2.5 million fewer doses of all routine non-influenza vaccines and 250,000 fewer doses of measles-containing vaccines compared to the same period in 2019.

According to the CDC researchers, children under the age of 2 saw a less prominent decrease than children older than 2 years. The younger children also started to see a more prominent uptick in late March than older children. 

Sally Goza, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), said the numbers were worrisome.

“Immunizing infants, children and adolescents is important, and should not be delayed,” Goza said in a statement.

The AAP has been calling for pediatricians to continue to provide well-child visits and immunizations for newborns and young children but delay such visits for older adolescents. 

The CDC also recommended that pediatricians continue well-child visits and immunizations during the pandemic, especially for children age 2 and under.

Parents have likely been concerned about exposing their children to the coronavirus. While other diseases may pose a greater risk to children than COVID-19, the messages to stay at home and only visit a doctor in an emergency likely contributed to the declines.

“To the extent that this is the case, reminding parents of the vital need to protect their children against serious vaccine-preventable diseases, even as the COVID-19 pandemic continues, is critical,” the CDC researchers wrote.

Vaccine rates had previously been declining in some parts of the country, and the U.S. nearly lost its measles elimination status last year.

Former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb told lawmakers recently that the decrease in vaccination rates could potentially lead to a measles outbreak in the fall.

Tags Bill de Blasio Coronavirus Donald Trump Measles Vaccines

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