We’re all eagerly awaiting the full rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine, but there was some separate news last week about vaccines that ought to worry all of us.
We’ve known for months that the coronavirus pandemic has resulted in fewer inoculations, particularly among children, as school and other schedules have been disrupted. Still, we saw last week just how disruptive the pandemic has been to this aspect of our lives when Wellmark Blue Cross Blue Shield in Iowa said that routine immunizations of school-age children declined more than 20%, a remarkable figure.
These vaccines protect against highly contagious and preventable diseases like measles, polio and whooping cough.
Such a big drop is nothing to shrug off. The missing vaccines increase the risk of outbreaks and lower community protections against these diseases.
Consider measles. The threshold for herd immunity for measles is 93%, so a dropoff this big is no small matter.
This decline isn’t unique to Iowa, either. It’s a problem all across the country. The Blue Cross Blue Shield Association released information last month that estimated children will miss 9 million vaccines this year. That number is huge. That’s a 26% decline from the year before. The insurer measured vaccinations in a period between January and September of this year.
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Forty percent of parents said their child had missed vaccinations due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Also this spring, the Iowa Department of Public Health said that the number of vaccines administered in March and April in that state were down 40% from the same period last year.
We know this is difficult, but it is important that parents keep up with getting their children vaccinated, and that they take care of themselves too. This can’t be emphasized enough. It also is vital that public health officials in this country, even as they battle the coronavirus pandemic, mount a vigorous campaign to catch up so we turn these trends around.
Already, the number of measles cases reached a 23-year high last year, according to the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In Iowa, we saw just two measles cases last year, but they were the first since 2011.
The World Health Organization noted recently that the number of cases in 2020 is down, but it warned that worldwide “more than 94 million people were at risk of missing vaccines due to paused measles campaigns in 26 countries.”
The WHO reported that there have been outbreaks in many of those countries.
We know this is on the radar screen of the local health departments, and we are hopeful they will move aggressively to help people catch up.
We all have been following the news about the COVID-19 vaccine rollout closely, and just last week public health experts in our area began explaining the first steps that are being taken in the distribution of these life-saving inoculations.
The good news with the missed childhood vaccines is that we don’t have to wait for a vaccine to get to us. These vaccines are already available and waiting. We just have to take action.
At a time when so much today seems out of our control, this is one area where we can introduce greater certainty into our lives and make a difference right now. It is important that we do so.
This originally appeared in the Dec. 13 Quad-City Times.