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State data: Childhood vaccinations plummeted during COVID-19

Logan Hullinger
York Dispatch
In this file photo, a man gets a flu shot at a health facility in Washington, DC January 31, 2020. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention plans a call with health-care providers to discuss flu vaccination, along with guidance for delivering vaccines during the pandemic. (EVA HAMBACH/AFP via Getty Images/TNS)

Childhood vaccination rates steeply decreased during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to state Health Department data, which has sparked a campaign among physicians calling on parents to keep up with their children's vaccination schedule.

On Monday, the state chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics and PA Immunization Coalition flagged the state data, which shows decreases of up to 76% in some age groups, attributing the drop to COVID-19 mitigation efforts.

Dr. Cynthia DeMuth, a pediatrician at UPMC Pinnacle in Harrisburg, said that the drop in the number of childhood vaccinations was most evident in the early months of the pandemic as physicians focused on newborns and toddlers.

“The children just weren’t coming into the office,” DeMuth said.

More:York County has 2 new deaths linked to COVID-19, 72 new cases

More:Does the flu vaccine affect my chances of getting COVID-19?

As of June 20, the most recent data available, the state had seen the following decreases in vaccinations when compared to vaccine rate averages between 2016 and 2019:

  • Up to 11 months old: 14.4% decrease
  • 1 to 3 years old: 47.3% decrease
  • 4 to 6 years old: 76.3% decrease
  • 7 to 10 years old: 68.5% decrease
  • 11 to 18 years old: 72.3% decrease

In the first months of the pandemic, many doctor’s offices and other health care providers were not conducting well-child visits or elective visits.

That not only affected vaccination rates, but it also hindered parents' abilities to bring in the children and perform mental health screenings and developmental checks, DeMuth said.

But with the American Academy of Pediatric's #CallYourPediatrician campaign, vaccinations are the main priority.

Beyond the importance of tackling the 14 vaccine-preventable diseases, vaccinations are also essential because the flu's symptoms can appear similar to COVID-19,  DeMuth said.

“By preventing children from getting the flu, we can prevent symptoms that could be confused with the flu,” DeMuth said.

Nate Wardle, spokesperson for the state Health Department, said the drop in vaccination rates is also on the state's radar.

"We are always concerned over a potential lack of live-saving immunizations, and we know many people are working to get their vaccines up-to-date," Wardle said.

The American Academy of Pediatric's #CallYourPediatrician campaign urges parents to get their children vaccinated, emphasizing the fact that pediatric offices have measures in place to avoid the spread of COVID-19.

“Our main job is to try and relieve parents’ fears. They are safe to bring their children, and their children will be safe and every precaution will be taken to get them vaccinated,” DeMuth said.

To bring awareness to the safety and importance of getting vaccinated, the organization has begin to put up billboards to spread awareness.

Those wishing to learn more about the  #CallYourPediatrician campaign and the importance of vaccinations can read the flyer here.

— Logan Hullinger can be reached at lhullinger@yorkdispatch.com or via Twitter at @LoganHullYD.