Measles Vaccination Rates On The Decline During Pandemic

by Julie Scagell
Scary Mommy, Katja Fuhlert/Pixabay and Nina P/Reshot

If vaccination rates continue on the decline, a measles outbreak in 2021 “is inevitable”

According to recent studies, measles vaccination rates have been experiencing a steep, lasting decline which could result in a major measles outbreak in the U.S. and other countries as soon as next year.

Researchers at Nationwide Children’s conducted a study recently published in the journal Pediatrics that looked at their pediatric primary care network, which includes 12 clinic sites in Columbus, Ohio, and found a drop in number of children who received their MMR vaccine. Specifically, they looked at kids under 16 months from March 2017 through August 2020 and found about a 10 percent drop in the number of children who had received their first MMR shot.

This recent decrease that began in March 2020 correlates to when the state had its first stay-at-home order for the coronavirus pandemic. Unfortunately, this pandemic-related decline in vaccination continued through August 2020, despite clinics being open for well visits.

“We have seen a resurgence of measles outbreaks in the U.S. and here in Ohio in recent years because fewer people have chosen to immunize,” said the study’s lead author Dr. Sara Bode, a primary care pediatrician and medical director of Nationwide Children’s Care Connection School-Based Health and Mobile Clinics. “We were concerned that with the pandemic, vaccination rates could fall further and there could be a real risk of a measles outbreak that could affect everyone in the community.”

Another study led by Professor Kim Mulholland, from the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute and Chair of the World Health Organization’s SAGE Working Group on measles and rubella vaccines, and published in the journal The Lancet, said that many children did not receive MMR vaccines this year, making future measles outbreaks “inevitable.”

Mulholland cited the pandemic as one factor in the lower-than-average vaccination rates because vaccination campaigns were paused in the early months of 2020 and routine immunization services severely disrupted in many countries. All of this, Mulholland said, could put many countries, including the U.S., at risk of a measles outbreak.

The WHO estimated that by the end of October 2020, delayed vaccination campaigns in 26 countries have led to 94 million children missing scheduled measles vaccinations.

“Before there was a coronavirus crisis, the world was grappling with a measles crisis, and it has not gone away,” said Henrietta Fore, UNICEF Executive Director (via The WHO). “While health systems are strained by the COVID-19 pandemic, we must not allow our fight against one deadly disease to come at the expense of our fight against another. This means ensuring we have the resources to continue immunization campaigns for all vaccine-preventable diseases, even as we address the growing COVID-19 pandemic.”

“All these factors create the environment for severe measles outbreaks in 2021, accompanied by increased death rates and the serious consequences of measles that were common decades ago,” Professor Mulholland said.

Researchers at Nationwide Children’s agreed. “Given the baseline low vaccination rates even before the pandemic and the subsequent decline, we face a critical need to improve timely vaccination and provide catch-up opportunities in the area with the highest incidence of COVID-19 in Ohio.” If not, a measles outbreak is, unfortunately, inevitable.