Millions of children have missed routine vaccinations this year, due to COVID-19 restrictions. The severe drop in immunizations threatens to leave communities throughout the U.S. at risk of losing protection against highly contagious diseases, according to new data from the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association [BCBSA].
As the pandemic prompted Americans to postpone or avoid receiving routine medical care, children are on track to miss an estimated nine million vaccination doses in 2020 that prevent diseases like the measles, whooping cough and polio, says the association.
That’s a decrease of about 26 percent in childhood vaccination doses compared to 2019.
Global public health officials are also warning of a sharp increase in the number of new measles infections and deaths, with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], the World Health Organization and UNICEF saying that urgent action is needed to avert major measles and polio epidemics.
BCBSA says based on new vaccine data and medical claims there is clear evidence that the country is at risk of widespread outbreaks of preventable disease.
Adding that if current trends continue, 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.
“The U.S. is on the precipice of a severe immunization crisis among children,” said Dr. Vincent Nelson, chief medical officer at BCBSA.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly interrupted adherence to vaccination schedules, and the possibility that preventable diseases, like polio, could become a threat to public health once again is particularly concerning.”
According to the new BCBSA data, 40 percent of parents and legal guardians say their children missed vaccinations due to the pandemic.
Most vaccination postponements occurred during two key time periods. The first was in March through May, when the pandemic was first taking hold.
Then, in August, 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, according to the BCBSA.
“These trends must be reversed,” Nelson said. “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.
“Family physicians, pediatricians and community health centers are well prepared and are taking measures to ensure their offices are safe,” Nelson said. “We urge parents to ensure all childhood vaccinations are up to date.”