Local health leaders stress importance of routine vaccines amid Ntl. Infant Immunization Week

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TRI-CITIES, Tenn. (WJHL) — This week marks National Infant Immunization Week. While much focus is being put on the COVID-19 vaccine, this spotlight is instead on the routine child vaccinations that help remove the risk of diseases like polio, tetanus, measles and mumps from society.

Local health leaders say they are noticing a disturbing trend: a decrease in those vaccination rates.

CDC report released in May 2020 found a troubling drop in standard childhood vaccination as a result of quarantine and more families staying at home.

“We can’t forget about the normal vaccines that kids need right now,” said Tennessee’s Health Commissioner Dr. Lisa Piercey.

Health leaders are raising a red flag, saying a new focus needs to be put on routine immunizations.

“I think it’s very concerning. We do not want to drop the ball on all the good work we have done to stamp out these childhood diseases,” said Dr. Stephen Combs, pediatrician and chief medical officer for Ballad Health.

It is ongoing research reflecting the summer of 2020 by the Commonwealth Fund that concerns Dr. Combs.

“In April there was 60% reduction in both well-visits and vaccinations. That dropped to 40 in May and throughout the summer about 25%. At Ballad Health we also saw those numbers,” said Combs.

He says the focus on the pandemic has been appropriate, but this is another matter of public health concern.

“What we don’t want to have coming out of this is a COVID-19 issue and then other mini pandemics or epidemics of things like measles, mumps, rubella,” said Combs.

New research from the University of Virginia school of medicine shows that more than a quarter of American infants in 2018 had not received their common childhood vaccines.

It is something they believe has now been made worse by the pandemic.

Dr. Piercey agrees action needs to be taken now to prevent a return of preventable diseases.

“If you got behind on your child’s immunization or on their well-child care, now is the time,” said Dr. Piercey.

Dr. Rajesh Balkrishnan with the University of Virginia said in a statement, “Particular attention needs to be paid to vulnerable populations in ensuring the availability and access to important, life-saving vaccines.”

Dr. Combs says with pandemic job loss and economic downturn, both play into the declining vaccine rates.

“Children have lost their insurance coverage because parents have been affected. That disproportionately affects certain populations.”

For more information on child and infant immunizations visit the CDC’s website.

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