Number of Children Getting Routine Vaccines Plummets in Coronavirus Era

Duncan Barnes, 1, is held by his mother, Jennifer Barnes, while receiving a vaccine for swine flu from Dr. Susan Henderson, left, and a vaccine for seasonal flu from nurse Allison Ross at Emory Children's Center in Atlanta in 2009. (Photo: File photo by John Amis, AP)
John Amis/AP

A study shows that the number of children getting routine vaccines to protect them from dangerous diseases has dramatically declined in the wake of the coronavirus.

Authors from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other health institutions used vaccine ordering data through the Vaccines for Children Program, which provides government-purchased vaccines to about 50 percent of children in United States. The CDC’s Vaccine Tracking System and Vaccine Safety Datalink (VSD) vaccine administration data also was incorporated.

The study compared orders for the period from Jan. 7 through April 21 this year to the same period last year.

“On March 24, CDC posted guidance emphasizing the importance of routine well child care and immunization, particularly for children aged [less than] 24 months, when many childhood vaccines are recommended,” the CDC report states.

The website reported on the study:

The findings suggest childhood vaccination efforts nearly ground to a halt between March 13 — when the national emergency was declared — and April 19.

There was a 2.5 million-dose decline in orders of regular childhood vaccines — not counting influenza vaccines — and a 250,000-dose decline in vaccines containing measles protection in that period, the authors reported.

Doctors and public health experts have worried that a vast number of regular health care needs — including preventive care interventions like vaccinations — have gone unmet in the past few months as people shy away from interacting with a health system that has, at least in some places, been overwhelmed by caring for Covid-19 patients. Pediatricians in particular have been concerned that children may be missing critical vaccinations, which the new data confirm has happened.

“Routine immunizations in young children are critical to maintain during the pandemic,” Kathryn Edwards, a pediatrician and scientific director of the Vanderbilt Vaccine Research Program in Nashville, Tennessee, said in the Stat report. “The usual childhood diseases are still around and we need to protect our children from them.”

“I think that didn’t happen,” Paul Offit, a pediatrician and vaccines expert at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, said in the Stat report. “I think there were a number of practices that didn’t do that because they were too scared. And so this is the result. You have this dramatic decline.”

Neither Edwards nor Offit was involved in this study, the Stat report said.

“The identified declines in routine pediatric vaccine ordering and doses administered might indicate that U.S. children and their communities face increased risks for outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases,” the study authors wrote.

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