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Antibiotic prescriptions for children dropped by 25% during first eight months of the pandemic

Prescriptions for all children’s medications fell dramatically last year amid the COVID-19 pandemic, a new study finds.

Researchers from the University of Michigan gathered data from pharmacies across the country.  

They found that medications prescribed for children dropped by more than a quarter in 2020 compared to 2019 and that antibiotic dispensing plunged by 56 percent. 

The findings add to the growing amount of data showing that many stayed away from the doctors’ office during the pandemic, which likely led tot he drop in prescriptions being dished out.

Prescriptions of all drugs fell by 25 percent last year, with prescriptions of antibiotics falling by 56 percent during the COVID-19 pandemic

‘The decline in the number of children receiving antibiotics is consistent with the large decreases in infection-related pediatric visits during 2020,’ said lead author Dr Kao-Ping Chua  a pediatrician and researcher at University of Michigan Health.

‘Because antibiotics have important side effects, the dramatic decreases in antibiotic dispensing may be a welcome development.

‘However, declines in dispensing of chronic disease drugs could be concerning.’ 

For the study, published in the journal Pediatrics, the team analyzed a drug dispensary database that included 92 percent of pharmacies around the country. 

They looked at the first eight months of the pandemic, comparing monthly prescription averages from April to December 2020 to averages from January 2018 to February 2020.

Before the pandemic, an average of 25.8 million prescriptions were dolled out to children every month.

That total fell 26 percent to just over 18 million a month between March 2020 and December 2020. 

The amount of prescriptions for acute conditions – like antibiotics – fell by 51 percent, with the antibiotics themselves falling by 56 percent.

‘The decrease in antibiotic dispensing most likely reflects reductions in infections, such as colds and strep throat, due to COVID-19 risk-mitigation measures like social distancing and face masks,’ Chua said.

‘As a result, children had fewer infection-related visits and had fewer opportunities to receive antibiotic prescriptions, whether for antibiotic-appropriate conditions or antibiotic-inappropriate conditions.’  

Chau said that a majority of antibiotic prescriptions given to kids are unnecessary, and the scaling back of their use last year could have a positive impact.

Because of the over-prescription of antibiotics can allow bacteria to develop resistances to the drugs.

There was also an 80 percent decline in the prescription of cough suppressors for colds and flus, which Chua believes are unnecessary and can be harmful long term.

Researchers believe there are benefits to the decline in antibiotic prescriptions, as it could help prevent bacteria becoming immune to the drugs

Researchers believe there are benefits to the decline in antibiotic prescriptions, as it could help prevent bacteria becoming immune to the drugs

‘These drugs have little benefit but are associated with potentially harmful side effects, particularly in young children,’ Chua said.

‘From the perspective of health care quality, the sharp decline in dispensing of cough-and-cold medications may represent a silver lining of the COVID-19 pandemic.’  

The dispensing of drugs for chronic conditions fell by 11 percent as well.

While the trend could be a positive, as some with chronic health conditions may have has decreased issues – like children with asthma seeing a sharp decrease in asthma attacks – Chau believes it could be a sign that some mental health needs are not being met.

‘An optimistic view is that few children on established antidepressant regimens discontinued use,’ Chua said.

‘Studies, however, suggest that the mental health of children has worsened during the pandemic, particularly among adolescents. Given this, our findings might suggest that antidepressant dispensing has not risen to meet this increased need.’

Around a quarter of teens reported last year that their mental health had declined due to the pandemic, per a report from the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Almost a third of parents reported the same for their children aged five to 12.