Millions of children have missed out on routine vaccinations this year due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, according to newly released data.
Data from the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association show that U.S. children this year are expected to miss out on some 9 million vaccination doses by the end of the year, causing a “precipitous drop in immunizations that threatens to leave communities throughout the U.S. at risk of losing protection against highly contagious diseases, including measles, whooping cough and polio,” the BCBSA said in a news release.
For measles, a preventable disease that was once considered to be eliminated in the U.S. but has slowly made a comeback in recent years, the insurance giant estimated that only 88.2% of children in the U.S. will receive this vaccine in 2020, representing a 26% decrease from 2019. For whooping cough, an estimated 79.3% will be vaccinated this year, also representing what the BCBSA said is a 26% decrease from the year before.
And for polio, an estimated 88.9% of children will receive this vaccine this year, a 16% decrease from 2019.
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For perspective, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends a 93% vaccination rate to meet herd immunity requirements, while a 92% vaccination rate is needed for whooping cough and an 86% rate for polio, according to the release.
The findings are based on an analysis of member claims data that looked at vaccination doses delivered from January to September of this year. The doses were then compared to the same time period in 2019.
The data “provides clear evidence that the United States is at risk of widespread outbreaks of preventable disease,” the company said, warning that if the trend continues, “the U.S. would fall dangerously below the vaccination levels for measles and whooping cough that the CDC says are needed to protect community health.”
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Overall, some 40% of parents or legal guardians said their child missed a routine vaccination this year due to COVID-19, with the majority saying this occurred in March through May, shortly after the pandemic began, and then again in August when “the typical spike in back-to-school vaccinations largely failed to occur because of the pandemic’s impact and the shift to virtual schooling options in districts across the country.”
“These trends must be reversed,” said Dr. Vincent Nelson, chief medical officer at BCBSA, in a statement, noting that the U.S. is on “the precipice of a severe immunization crisis among children.”
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“It is critical that parents and caretakers keep up with regular wellness visits and catch up on any previously missed vaccinations to keep children safe and ensure community protection against these highly contagious diseases,” continued Nelson.
“Family physicians, pediatricians and community health centers are well prepared and are taking measures to ensure their offices are safe. We urge parents to ensure all childhood vaccinations are up to date,” he added.