Yet another hidden cost of Covid-19 was revealed on Thursday as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention presented new data showing how the pandemic has dramatically impeded the US effort to vaccinate kids for other diseases.
According to the CDC’s report, national vaccine coverage among American children in kindergarten dropped from 95% to below 94% in the past year – which may seem like a small amount but meant 350,000 fewer children were vaccinated against common diseases.
“Overall, today’s findings support previous data showing a concerning decline in childhood immunizations that began in March 2020,” Shannon Stokley, the CDC’s immunization services deputy division director, said in a press conference on Thursday.
Another 400,000 kids were absent from kindergarten altogether during the 2020-2021 school year, the data showed.
“These children too, might not be up to date on their routine vaccinations, further evidence of how pandemic-related disruptions to healthcare and education could have lingering consequences for school-age children,” the CDC report said.
Some of the reasons for the lower vaccination rates included reluctance to schedule appointments, reduced access to them, so-called “provisional” school enrollment, the easing of vaccination requirements for remote learners, fewer parents submitting documents and less time for school nurses to follow up with unvaccinated students.
States and schools also told the CDC that there were fewer staff members to assess kindergarten vaccination coverage, and a lower response rate from schools, both due to Covid-19.
“The CDC provides vaccines for nearly half of America’s children through the Vaccines for Children program,” Stokley said. “And over the last two years, orders for distribution of routine vaccines are down more than 10% compared to before the Covid-19 pandemic.
“We are concerned that missed routine vaccinations could leave children vulnerable to preventable diseases like measles and whooping cough which are extremely dangerous and can be very serious, especially for babies and young children.”
In a study published last October in JAMA Pediatrics, Black families were found to be less likely to have their children caught up with vaccines, compared with Hispanic or Asian families.
“Think about where a lot of the underserved, underprivileged individuals will access care, or try to access care – those institutions that actually went into lockdown,” Terrence Shirley, CEO of the Community Health Center Association of Mississippi, told the Guardian last December.
Despite the drop in national vaccine rates among children, the CDC said that routine vaccination coverage still remains high, and that “we can recover ground lost during the Covid-19 pandemic.”
The agency called for extra effort to catch students up on missed shots and to maintain high rates of routine childhood vaccinations.