Some parts of our routines that slipped away, like long commutes to the office, have been welcomed with open arms by those who already feel overwhelmed. Other aspects of routine that have fallen by the wayside, like kids’ annual doctor visits and the standard vaccines that accompany them? Not so much, according to public health experts.
A group of pediatricians, school nurses, immunization advocates, state officials, and other public health experts from 10 states told Politico that kids are not getting caught up on standard vaccinations for preventable illnesses like measles, chickenpox, and meningitis.
It’s not only the catching up that experts are worried about. They also fear that some parents might be projecting hesitancy surrounding the COVID-19 vaccine onto other vaccines, making potentially lethal diseases thought to be eradicated much more common.
“We just want to keep measles, polio, and all the things we vaccinate against out of the political arena,” said Hugo Scornik, a pediatrician and president of the Georgia Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Scornik cited the introduction of several bills at the state level that limited vaccinations and even end immunization requirements in some schools. None of the bills moved forward, according to Politico, but the introduction itself is indicative of an alarming trend in the rise of vaccine hesitancy.
At the beginning of the pandemic, the CDC saw a 15% drop from pre-pandemic levels of states’ orders for Vaccines for Children, which is the federal program that helps vaccinate nearly half the children in the country. In 2021, the levels were 7% lower than pre-pandemic.
The trend is more alarming in states that have actively fought against mask and vaccine mandates in the guise of protecting parents’ individual rights.
For example, last month, the Florida Department of Health issued new guidance surrounding the Covid vaccine, saying that “healthy children from ages 5 to 17 may not benefit from receiving the currently available COVID-19 vaccine.” In Florida, the rate for 2-year-old routine immunizations dropped from 92.1% in 2019 to 79.3% in 2021.
Nearby, In Tennessee, almost 14 percent fewer vaccine doses were given to children under 2 in the last two years in comparison to before the pandemic. Meanwhile in Idaho, another state with high COVID vaccine hesitancy, the number of kids who received their first dose of the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine by age 2 decreased from 21,000 pre-pandemic to 17,000 post-pandemic.
As of now, there hasn’t been any outbreaks of measles in theme parks or spikes in any other preventable childhood illnesses. But public health experts think it is only a matter of time, given the downward trend of overall routine vaccinations.