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Fewer young children vaccinated against measles, whooping cough during pandemic, study finds

Oct. 7 (UPI) — Many parents of younger children in the United States chose not to keep them up to date with routine vaccinations during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, a study published Thursday JAMA Pediatrics found.

Across eight healthcare systems operating in six states, 74% of children age 7 months and younger were current with their routine vaccinations in September 2020, down from 82% in February last year, before the pandemic took hold to the United States, the data showed.

Similarly, as of September of last year, 57% of children 18 months and younger were up to date with their shots, which protect against diseases such as measles and pertussis, or whooping cough, down from 62% before the start of the pandemic.

The drop in routine vaccinations, likely due in part to parents’ reluctance to bring children to healthcare facilities and potentially expose them to COVID-19, could lead to more outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases such as measles and mumps, particularly as schools reopen, researchers said.

“We found [that] the proportion of children up to date with vaccinations decreased for certain age groups … during the first six months of the COVID-19 pandemic,” study co-author Dr. Malini DeSilva told UPI in an email.

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“Ensuring your child is up to date on recommended vaccines will help protect their health now and in the future,” said DeSilva, a pediatric urgent care specialist at Health Partners Park Nicollet in Bloomington, Minn.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that children age 15 months and younger be vaccinated against pertussis, polio and varicella, or chicken pox, among other diseases.

In addition, at age 1, children should receive their first dose of the two-shot measles, mumps and rubella, or MMR, vaccine, the agency advises.

In 2018-19, nearly 95% of children nationally were up to date with their MMR vaccination, and a similar percentage had been vaccinated against pertussis, according to the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota.

However, vaccination uptake figures vary widely by state, with some below 90% during the 2018-19 school year, the last year for which figures are available, the center reports.

In addition, that same year, up to 8% of kindergarten-age children in some states received exemptions from vaccine requirements, it says.

For this study, DeSilva and her colleagues analyzed data on the vaccination status of roughly 1.4 million children and teens who were patients at healthcare systems in California, Oregon, Washington, Colorado, Minnesota and Wisconsin.

They compared vaccination rates for all routine childhood shots recommended by the CDC in 2019 and early 2020 — before the COVID-19 pandemic — to those of May and September last year, when the virus forced the closure of schools.

Across the board, vaccination rates were lower in May and September 2020 than they had been before the pandemic, with the biggest differences seen in infants age 18 months and younger.

“Routine childhood vaccines reduce the transmission of vaccine-preventable diseases within communities [and] maintaining high vaccination coverage is necessary to continue this protection,” DeSilva said.

“Outbreaks of diseases such as measles and whooping cough may occur when vaccine coverage drops below certain levels,” she said.

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