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Pediatricians on alert: Childhood vaccinations decline at alarming rate

The pandemic has forced many families to miss their kids' routine check-ups, which means they're missing those routine vaccinations for highly contagious diseases

ST. LOUIS — COVID-19 isn't the only thing schools are concerned about when kids return full-time.

The pandemic has forced many families to miss their kids' routine check-ups, which in turn means they're missing those routine vaccinations for highly contagious diseases like measles.

It’s no surprise, the pandemic has changed the way we live for the past year now. We are starting to see the lasting impacts it has had on children. According to a recent analysis by insurance company Blue Cross Blue Shield, it's had a major effect on childhood vaccinations. The analysis found some 9 million childhood vaccination doses were missed in 2020 because well visits were postponed or canceled among its participants.

Dr. Maya Moody is a Mercy Kids Pediatrician and Vice President of the Missouri Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

“The vaccination data is showing us that even a year into the pandemic we're still about 25 to 30% as average down for the state of Missouri in routine childhood vaccinations. I know that in my office we're probably still down about 25% to 30% of children that we're trying to catch up,” Dr. Moody said.

Dr. Moody said there's a number of reasons parents are skipping or postponing these routine well-visits. For starters, they're concerned about the spread of the coronavirus.

“I think that this is not a moment of panic, you know, but I think it's something that we really need to pay attention to. We need to just communicate to parents and the community that it is safe. The numbers of COVID are coming down and so you know your doctor's office is probably one of the safest places you can go and we really want to encourage families to keep up on those routine visits,” she explained.

Unemployment certainly plays a role as well in missed well-visits for children. An estimated 180,000 Missourians were out of work in December, according to the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates 466,000 Illinoisans are currently out of work.

“There are a lot of children whose families have lapsed on insurance coverage and well child visits and routine vaccines are not inexpensive,” Dr. Moody said.

Credit: KSDK

Looking back at that Blue Cross Blue Shield analysis, which compares 2020 to 2019 vaccination numbers, you can see the drastic drop. A 26% decline in vaccinations for measles and whooping cough and a 16% decline for polio.

“I think the one that we worry about most is measles. Measles is so easily transmitted like twice or three times that of COVID. You know with the measles; we had that outbreak at Disneyland and those things happen because there's not enough people who have the vaccine,” Dr. Moody said.

These missed childhood vaccinations are impacting our area schools. 5 On Your Side reached out to a number of our local school districts and found they are seeing an increase in children who are not up to date with their routine vaccinations.

Many of those families have chosen to continue virtual learning. This is concerning for infectious disease specialist Dr. Jason Newland of Washington University. If we continue to see a decline in childhood vaccinations and don’t do something about it now, Dr. Newland said we could see big outbreaks in certain populations of the U.S. where there is high vaccine resistance.

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