Drop In Childhood Immunizations Worries Pediatricians
In the decades he’s spent as a pediatrician, Dr. Christopher Wilhelm has never had to treat a child with Rubella.
While the disease, which can cause miscarriages and stillbirth, used to be fairly common in the U.S., now fewer than 10 people a year contract it, according to the Centers for Disease Control and prevention. That’s thanks to a vaccine that protects against rubella, measles and mumps, and a decades-long campaign to immunize kids across the country.
“People have just been so used to getting shots and getting their vaccines, and that’s keeping disease down of many things that used to- were very traumatic to children," Wilhelm said.
But now the MU Health Care pediatrician is worried, because those vaccinations are down in Missouri and nationwide. “We would hate for something large, basically having another pandemic with a certain disease on top of the ongoing COVID pandemic,” Wilhelm added.
A recent report from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Georgetown University Center for Children and Families found children have missed some 11 million routine vaccinations over the course of the pandemic. Many people have deferred or fallen behind on routine preventative visits, and for children that means falling behind on the set schedule of immunizations children are supposed to follow.
Dr. Lisa Costello is a pediatric hospitalist at West Virginia University and the president of her state’s chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. “We really, as pediatricians have been encouraging parents to contact their pediatricians to see if their child fell behind,” she said.
For Costello, pediatricians are playing catch-up to stop outbreaks of preventable but potentially deadly diseases like whooping cough ahead of the school year.
“I think for right now we need to use all the tools we have in our toolbox, and we need to prioritize getting children back to school alongside their friends and their teachers,” Costello explained.
As the Delta variant continues to cause outbreaks across the country, one of those tools is masking — something the AAP is recommending to all schools. But another tool is the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, which has emergency use authorization for kids 12 and up.
In Missouri, just 25 percent of children in that age range have been vaccinated, which is below the national average. The Missouri Immunization Coalition aims to increase that rate. The group was founded in January of 2020 with the goal of reducing the spread of vaccine preventable diseases. Now, that includes COVID.
Nicole Cope is the executive director of the coalition. She says her group is working on a campaign to increase COVID vaccinations, and tailoring their efforts to underserved parts of the state. They’ve already launched public service announcements to raise awareness of the lag in childhood vaccinations.
The coalition has also put together resources for providers on subject like talking to parents about vaccinations. Cope worries the resistance to the COVID-19 vaccine could have a ripple effect that outlasts the pandemic.
“There’s such a polarization around the COVID-19 vaccination that it really really does have the potential to affect normal childhood vaccinations,” Cope said.
Her work to reduce COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy through outreach just got a boost. The Missouri Immunization Coalition recently signed a contract with the state to improve vaccination rates over the next year.