The United States could begin seeing outbreaks of measles and other vaccine-preventable diseases because children are failing to get necessary immunizations during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday.
A newly released study found vaccinations for children and vaccine orders dropped precipitously in late March, about a week after President Donald Trump declared a national emergency due to the novel coronavirus. As social distancing restrictions are relaxed, diseases beyond COVID-19 could spread, it warns.
“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 authors wrote. “Assessment of state and local vaccination coverage is needed to quantify the impact among U.S. children of all ages and prioritize areas for intervention.”
The study is based on data from the federally funded Vaccines for Children Program, which covers about 50 percent of Americans under 18, and broader tracking data collected by the CDC.
The decline in vaccines was not as severe for children under 2, and vaccination numbers for that group have begun to tick back up, the study found. But as of mid-April, about 1,500 young children a week were getting measles vaccines at sites tracked by the CDC, compared to 2,500 a week before the pandemic. Among older children, the numbers are much worse — only a few hundred a week are getting their measles vaccines, instead of thousands.
The researchers credited intensive efforts to get vaccines to younger children through well-children visits and direct outreach to families.
Guy Culpepper, a family doctor in Frisco, Texas, said he has reached out to all his patients and urged them to get their immunizations. But he still has a quarter-million dollars worth of unused vaccines sitting in his office.
“We get focused on the storm around us and forget every other kind of trouble,” he said.
Other countries are experiencing similar problems. The World Health Organization warned last month that more than 117 million children are at risk of missing out on measles vaccines because immunization campaigns have been delayed or canceled amid the pandemic.
Children generally get their first measles, mumps and rubella vaccine at about 12 to 15 months, and the second when they are 4 to 6 years old. Gaps in vaccinations have already resulted in lower immunization rates; there were more measles cases in the United States last year than at any other point in the past quarter-century.