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Drop in routine childhood vaccinations during coronavirus may spur increase in preventable illness, CDC warns

A marked decline in routine childhood vaccinations during the coronavirus pandemic may lead to an increase in preventable diseases, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warned on Thursday. The agency released a new Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report that found a substantial decrease in administered vaccine doses during March-May 2020, and while there was an increase during June-September the agency said it was “not sufficient to achieve catch-up coverage.” 

The study analyzed vaccination rates for diphtheria, tetanus, acellular pertussis (DTaP) in children aged 0-23 months and children aged 2-6 years, measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) for children aged 12-23 months and children aged 2-8 years, human papillomavirus (HPV) for children aged 9-12 years and adolescents aged 13-17 years, and tetanus, diphtheria and acellular pertussis (Tdap) for adolescents aged 13-17 years. 

The data indicated a decline across all vaccinations among all age groups compared to years prior. In children aged 2-8 years, MMR vaccination declined 63.1%. Among adolescents aged 13-17 years, HPV vaccination declined 71.3%, while Tdap vaccination among children aged 9-12 saw a 66.5% decline. During June-September 2020, the number of weekly routine pediatric doses administered increased, but none translated to pre-pandemic levels. 

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“This lag in catch-up vaccination might pose a serious public health threat that would result in vaccine-preventable disease outbreaks, especially in schools that have reopened for in-person learning,” the CDC stated. “During the past few decades, the United States has achieved a substantial reduction in the prevalence of vaccine-preventable diseases driven in large part to the ongoing administration of routinely recommended pediatric vaccines.” 

The data was assessed from 10 jurisdictions with “high-performing immunization information systems,” which included Idaho, Iowa, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New York City, North Dakota, Oregon, Washington and Wisconsin. The CDC noted that the March-May 2020 period coincided with many stay-at-home orders, while June-September began a period of reopening. 

The CDC urged health care providers to assess the vaccination status of all pediatric patients and contact those behind schedule to ensure that all children are fully vaccinated. 

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“Pediatric outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases have the potential to derail efforts to reopen schools for the 2021–22 academic year and further delay nationwide efforts to return students to the classroom,” the CDC stated. “Health care systems and other social institutions are already overburdened by the COVID-19 pandemic, and vaccine preventable disease outbreaks can lead to loss of in-person learning and further overwhelm community resources and contribute to morbidity and mortality. As COVID-19 vaccinations become readily available to pediatric populations, CDC recommends providers consider co-administering COVID-19 vaccines with other routinely recommended vaccines, especially when patients are behind or might fall behind on routine recommended vaccines.”

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