CDC warns of possible measles outbreak as vaccinations for children fall during coronavirus pandemic

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Routine vaccinations for young children in the United States fell during the first half of this year as more Americans skipped routine doctor visits and stayed home due to the coronavirus pandemic, according to a report published Monday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC warned that measles outbreaks could result from fewer vaccinations.

The CDC analyzed immunization data from Michigan, which implemented a stay-at-home order intended to curb the spread of the virus on March 23. The vaccination status of babies and toddlers at 1, 3, 5, 7, 16, 19 and 24 months old was assessed, with each group including an average sample size of 9,269 for the study period from 2016 through 2019, and 9,539 for 2020.

 Vaccinations, except for hepatitis B, fell in all age groups, U.S. health officials said. The hepatitis B vaccine is typically administered in the hospital at birth. Recommended vaccinations for children age 5 months declined from approximately two-thirds of children from 2016 through 2019 to fewer than half in May 2020, they said.

For the 16-month age group, coverage with all recommended vaccines declined, with measles-containing vaccination coverage decreasing from 76.1% in May 2019 to 70.9% in May 2020, the agency said. The report also found that up-to-date vaccination coverage was lower for children enrolled in Medicaid, the federal government’s health insurance program for the poor, than for those who were not enrolled. 

“The observed declines in vaccination coverage might leave young children and communities vulnerable to vaccine-preventable diseases such as measles,” the CDC wrote in its findings. “If measles vaccination coverage of 90%–95% (the level needed to establish herd immunity) is not achieved, measles outbreaks can occur.”

Late last month, the World Health Organization warned world leaders that children across the globe would die as the coronavirus pandemic forces some countries to temporarily halt vaccinations for other deadly diseases.

At least 21 countries were reporting vaccine shortages as a result of travel restrictions meant to curb the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said during a press conference at the agency’s Geneva headquarters on April 27. “The tragic reality is children will die as a result.”

The CDC said Monday that “concerted efforts” are needed to ensure children are caught up on their vaccines.

“As the nation continues efforts to mitigate transmission of SARS-CoV-2, disruption of essential health services might occur, including in outpatient settings,” the agency wrote. “Many provider offices have transitioned to telemedicine practices, where possible, to provide continuity of care in the medical home.”

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