Drops in childhood vaccination rates raise concern for local health experts

Measles Pacific Northwest_1551570321905

File – In this Feb. 13, 2019, file photo, a health care worker prepares syringes, including a vaccine for measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR), for a child’s inoculations at the International Community Health Services in Seattle. The focus on measles in the Pacific Northwest intensified Friday, March 1, 2019, as public health officials in Oregon […]

JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – Childhood vaccination rates are plummetting across the country, according to reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and local experts say it’s no different in our region.

In a report published last week, the CDC outlined a “notable decrease” in certain childhood vaccines and measles vaccines that began when President Donald Trump declared a national emergency on March 13.

source: cdc.gov

Director of Infection Prevention Jamie Swift said that pediatric visits are trending downward in our region too, and cautioned that delayed immunization for a disease like measles could bring the illness back into communities.

She explained that high vaccination rates keep the virus at bay through ‘herd immunity’ – meaning a high number of people in the community are vaccinated against a disease.

In the case of measles, Swift said it could only take one case for an outbreak in a community. While one person with COVID-19 may infect one or two people, a person carrying measles will infect nine out of 10 unprotected people they encounter, Swift said.

“(If) the majority of the population is vaccinated, those vaccinated people typically keep the disease at bay within a community,” Swift. said. “So the more people you don’t have vaccinated that umbrella of herd immunity really starts to have cracks in it and the disease can get in and get to the most vulnerable population.”

Swift said the steep decline of childhood well visits and vaccination rates likely dropped because parents are hesitant to take their children to the doctor amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Swift said parents should maintain a vaccination schedule for their kids to keep herd immunity within the community up.

Swift encouraged parents to resume doctor’s visits and ensured that medical providers throughout the region are taking measures to promote safe operations during the pandemic.

“The providers have really thought through what’s necessary – how do we protect our patients?” she said. “And they’re doing really everything they can to make sure that your child is safe.”

An outbreak of a preventable disease like measles would be troubling under normal circumstances, Swift continued, but she said a measles outbreak could worsen the pandemic if it gets into the community.

With travel increasing across the country, Swift said it’s possible for someone to bring measles into the community.

“We certainly want to continue social distancing and some of those things might help, but if those things are falling through and you’re not masked and you have measles introduced, it’s just a double-whammy risk,” she said.

The CDC recommends that U.S. children receive a two-dose series of measles-containing vaccines at ages 12-15 months and 4.6 years.

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