A year ago, the United States saw the highest annual number of measles cases since 1992, with 1,249 cases reported. Of these, 89 percent of the measles patients were unvaccinated or had an unknown vaccination status. Now, fears of another measles outbreak in the country loom as the coronavirus pandemic indirectly is causing a drop in measles vaccinations.
Routine vaccinations for young children in the U.S. dropped during the first half of the year as more Americans skipped doctor, according to a report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The CDC analyzed the vaccination data from Michigan, which was under a stay-at-home order to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. The researchers studied the vaccination status of babies and toddlers at 1, 3, 5, 7, 16, 19, and 24 months. A total of 9,539 young children were included in the study.
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Vaccination coverage decline
The report revealed that in Michigan alone, the number of childhood vaccinations administered decreased by as much as 22 percent due to the coronavirus pandemic. The CDC found that vaccinations fell across all ages among babies and toddlers, except for Hepatitis B since it is administered at birth in the hospital.
Among children aged 5 months, up-to-date status for all recommended vaccines dropped from two-thirds of children during the 2016 to 2019 period, to fewer than half in May 2020. For children who are 16 months old, the vaccination coverage also declined, with measles-containing vaccination coverage dropping from 76.1 percent in May 2019 to 70.9 percent in May 2020.
Another measles outbreak
Health experts fear that if the vaccination coverage for measles continues to decrease, there might be another outbreak in the country.
“The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is a reminder of the importance of vaccination. The identified declines in routine pediatric vaccine ordering and doses administered might indicate that U.S. children and their communities face increased risks for outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases,” the CDC said in its report.
In 2019, the U.S. experienced the highest number of cases since 1992, with more than 73 percent of the cases linked to outbreaks in New York. Most of the cases were among people who were not vaccinated against measles.
The new report of CDC comes after health experts warned on the possible resurgence of measles. The report builds on data showing an emerging trend in the drop of childhood vaccinations not only in the United States but also across the globe.
What can be done?
Amid the coronavirus pandemic, many doctors have transitioned to telemedicine, offering online consultations to their patients. However, some treatment procedures, such as vaccinations, still require an in-person doctor’s visit.
“As the nation continues, efforts to mitigate transmission of SARS-CoV-2, disruption of essential health services might occur, including in outpatient settings. Many provider offices have transitioned to telemedicine practices, where possible, to provide continuity of care in the medical home,” the report reads.
The CDC recommends that healthcare providers can use their electronic health records and immunization information systems to work with families. This way, they can schedule in-person appointments, determine the children who missed their shots and assure parents that extensive and strict infection control practices are in place.
“Strategies to maintain immunization services include dedicating specific clinics, rooms, or buildings for sick visits and well visits; reducing the number of patients on-site at any one time; closing waiting rooms or registration areas, and having patients check-in by phone and receive vaccinations from their vehicles in the parking lot,” the CDC added.
Rigorous efforts are required to ensure the rapid catch-up for children who missed their vaccine shots, especially measles-containing vaccines. The CDC, including the Michigan government, is working with local health offices and vaccine providers to monitor patient vaccination coverage to prevent outbreaks of other infectious diseases.
- Bramer CA, Kimmins LM, Swanson R, et al. Decline in Child Vaccination Coverage During the COVID-19 Pandemic — Michigan Care Improvement Registry, May 2016–May 2020. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. ePub: 18 May 2020. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm6920e1external icon