Jun 11, 2021 - Health

Routine immunizations have still not rebounded to pre-pandemic levels

Data: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Chart: Michelle McGhee/Axios

The sharp decline in routine childhood immunizations following stay-at-home orders last spring reversed considerably by the fall. But it "was not sufficient to achieve catch-up coverage," a new report out from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Thursday shows.

Why it matters: Children behind on their shots for preventable diseases like measles and whooping cough could pose a "serious public health threat" to themselves and others, especially if mask mandates are no longer in place by the return for in-person schooling this fall.

In recent years, some states were already struggling to reach acceptable immunization rates for mandatory vaccines, such as those for measles, mumps, and rubella.

  • As an example of the consequence, officials say, a measles outbreak occurred in Rockland County, N.Y., and surrounding counties in the 2018-2019 school year. Measles vaccination coverage in those schools was only 77%, far below the 93%–95% coverage needed to sustain herd immunity, the report cites.

What's happening: Routine vaccines for various age groups for diphtheria, tetanus and acellular pertussis; MMR and the human papillomavirus were analyzed in several states across the U.S.

  • All immunizations were drastically down from March to May 2020, compared to 2018 and 2019 levels. They remained down several percentage points from June through September.

Zoom in: MMR shots decreased between 22% and 63%. Though an improvement, shots in June through September were still down approximately by 9%-11%.

  • Routine HPV vaccinations were down between 64%-71% in the spring. The U.S. was administering 12%-28% less shots between June and September than years prior.

Of note: The CDC changed its guidance last month to allow COVID shots to be given at the same time as others, so providers should consider scheduling all at once if a child is eligible as to not overburden the health care system, the agency says.

The bottom line: "Even a transient decline in vaccination coverage can compromise herd immunity and result in the propagation of outbreaks," per the report.

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