The number of five-month-old children getting vaccinations has plummeted to below 50 percent in Michigan amid the coronavirus pandemic, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data released Monday reveals.
For the last three years, about two thirds of five-month-olds in the state have been up-to-date on their shots. But as of May 2020, only 49.7 percent of children in that age group had their recommended vaccinations – a decline of more than 25 percent.
Vaccination rates declined among other age groups, too, although by a smaller margin. Collectively, the number of kids 18 and under who got shots declined 21.5 percent this year compared to previous ones.
The researchers only examined data on Michigan, but anti-vaccination rallies have persisted even as coronavirus shut down much of the country and Americans have shied away from hospitals and doctors’ offices for fear they’ll be exposed to the virus.
No vaccine yet exists to protect against coronavirus, but the pandemic hit just as the US had gotten a spate of measles outbreaks under control – and the CDC researchers warn that falling vaccination rates could open the door to another one.
Fewer than 50% of five-month-old children in Michigan got their recommended vaccines this year, CDC research revealed (file)
Controlling the spread of coronavirus became priority number one in the US and around the world – but measures to stem its rapid transmission came with collateral damage for other parts of the healthcare system.
On March 13, the pandemic was declared a national state of emergency in the US.
By March 25, the CDC had recommended that US hospitals cancel or postpone all non-emergency surgeries and procedures.
Although hospitals were not fully or formally shut down, the public was generally encouraged to avoid them if possible to protect themselves and healthcare workers from potential exposure to coronavirus, to free up staff availability for COVID-19 patients, and to help prevent the health care system from becoming overwhelmed.
There was bound to be fallout for other facet of public health, and the earliest studies are just beginning to paint a picture of those consequences.
Coronavirus infection rates have been generally low among children – although a spike in pediatric cases coinciding with a rare and dangerous inflammatory condition proves they’re not entirely safe from coronavirus – but that doesn’t mean that the pandemic hasn’t had other effects on them.
Regular check ups and vaccination are core to pediatric health care, but the new research from the CDC suggests this priority has been set aside since the pandemic began.
With the exception of shots given at birth, vaccine rates fell for every age group in Michigan in 2020 compared to previous years, as the coronavirus pandemic made families shy of health care facilities
Researchers looked at vaccination data on 9,269 children from 2016 to 2019 and 9,539 children from this year, all in Michigan, which has the nation’s seventh largest coronavirus outbreak currently.
According to CDC recommendations, ages one, three, five, seven, 16, 19 and 24 are ‘vaccine milestone’ markers for kids.
With the exception of hepatitis B shots typically given at birth, at a hospital, vaccination rates fell for all ages and types of shots.
In past years, two thirds of five-month-old children were up-to-date on their vaccines.
But this year, only 49.7 percent had gotten all the recommended shots by May.
For all other children under 18, vaccination rates fell 21.5 percent and by 15.5 percent for toddlers two and under.
By the time children are 16 months old, they should have had their measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine.
Last May, 76.1 percent of kids had gotten the shot.
In May 2020, that rate fell below 71 percent.
It’s a difference of less than seven percent – but even that relatively small decline introduces weakness into the shield of herd immunity.
‘The observed declines in vaccination coverage might leave young children and communities vulnerable to vaccine-preventable diseases such as measles,’ the study authors wrote.
‘If measles vaccination coverage of 90%–95% (the level needed to establish herd immunity) is not achieved, measles outbreaks can occur.’
At just over three quarters of 16-month-old kids, Michigan’s 2019 measles vaccination rates were already well below the level required to confer herd immunity, making this year’s declines even more worrisome.
Parents’ hesitancy to go to hospitals and clinics amid the pandemic are understandable, but the CDC team underscored the duty of health care systems to establish safer alternatives to make it easier for kids to get vaccinated in such dangerous times.
They suggested that designated vaccination clinics could be set up in parking lots, here parents would not have to risk exposing themselves or their children to coronavirus.