**FILE** Close up of a mother taking her daughter to the pediatrician to get vaccinated

Declining vaccination rates among Maryland children are creating the potential for another public health crisis. As demonstrated by the recently reported polio case in New York, skipping routine vaccinations can create serious public health issues. The CDC reported that Maryland’s vaccination rate for children entering kindergarten plunged from an average of 95% for MMR, DTaP and varicella in 2019-2020 to 88.2% for 2020-2021. Maryland schoolchildren are vaccinated at a rate almost 6% lower than the national average of 93.7%. And among states, both Maryland and Washington, D.C.’s proportion of kindergarteners attending school without proof of required vaccinations were at 8.3% and 4.8%, among the greatest in the country.

As COVID-19 evolves from a pandemic with unknown risks to a part of our lives, it is imperative to return to pre-pandemic health care routines. During the first year of the pandemic, research suggests that 41.3% of children missed routine well-child visits and 33.1% missed recommended vaccinations. Reasons for skipped visits included COVID-19 exposure concerns and vaccination hesitancy. These visits are critical to establishing children’s health as they grow.

As school starts in the fall, preschoolers are required to get critical vaccinations for kindergarten registration, and it’s not too late to catch up on missed vaccinations. And now, with the COVID-19 vaccine available for children six months and older, you can provide more protection for your child. 

Remember the following four vaccination facts and make it a priority to keep your child up to date with immunizations.

Immunizations save lives: Getting vaccinated is the most effective way to protect against infectious diseases that can cause severe illness and death. If parents follow the CDC recommended schedule, their children will be protected from 14 potentially deadly diseases before they turn two years old. Thanks to vaccines, many of these diseases are eradicated in the U.S. Immunizations also save the lives of others who can’t get vaccinated because they are too young or immunocompromised.

Vaccinations are safe and effective: The U.S. requires that vaccines undergo rigorous testing before they are available. The risk of contracting a disease is much greater than having a severe reaction to the vaccine for most children. For example, while there is only one out of 1.1 million cases of a serious reaction to the hepatitis B vaccine, there are about 1,700 deaths caused by the disease annually in the U.S. Since the hepatitis B vaccine was recommended for newborns, it has been virtually eliminated in children in the U.S. 

Immunizations prevent costly treatments: Vaccinating your child prevents medical bills and days missed from work caring for a sick child. Kaiser Permanente and most health insurance plans cover recommended childhood vaccines, and The Vaccines for Children Program offers no-cost immunizations for children who qualify. Before the vaccine, rotavirus caused as many as 70,000 hospitalizations per year in children under five due to severe dehydration. Since introducing the vaccine in 2006, cases have substantially declined, preventing thousands of costly hospital admissions annually.

Immunizations stop preventable diseases from returning: Everyone plays an integral part by getting vaccinated. When a large percentage of a community is immune to an infectious disease, we create “herd immunity.” It provides a protective barrier against dangerous diseases from spreading and can help protect those who can’t be vaccinated. A slight drop in vaccination rates can weaken immunity within a community, as experienced in recent history with measles. While vaccinations eliminated measles in 2000, almost 1,300 U.S. cases reemerged in 2019 due to anti-vaccination sentiment.

Before school starts in the fall, ensure your child visits their health care provider to get any skipped vaccines. Kaiser Permanente offers convenient scheduling of COVID-19 vaccines for your family here. 

You have the power to protect your child by working with your health care provider to catch up on missed vaccinations. I have two children under 12, and I know it can be hard to juggle life’s demands, but you still have time to get them fully vaccinated before school starts. Together we can get it done and have safer schools and communities. You can be part of the solution.

Dixon is a pediatrician at Kaiser Permanente South Baltimore County Medical Center.

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