In Mid-March, the president declared COVID-19 a national emergency. The repercussions of COVID-19 stem far beyond the disease itself. Since a national emergency was called, childhood vaccinations have significantly dropped for all age groups across the United States. According to the CDC, doctors who participate in the Vaccines for Children program are ordering about 3 million fewer vaccines than last year at the same time.
The stay-at-home orders and the parents’ fear of exposing their children to COVID-19 may have played a role in the reduction in vaccinations across the country. Also, health departments across the country had to suspend their immunization programs as they lead local health responses to combat the coronavirus, but these programs have since been restarted. The effects of these things are very worrisome as a decrease in immunizations can lead to a breakdown in herd immunity. Vaccinating most of the population for a disease leads to indirect protection for those who are unable to receive the vaccine due to being too young, such as newborns, or being immunocompromised, such as chemotherapy patients or those with other diseases. Measles, Rubella, Tetanus, and Whooping Cough used to be household names that sparked fear, but through vaccines we have been able to minimize these harmful diseases. In recent years, we have seen a resurgence in these preventable diseases due to lack of vaccinations. That is why this drastic decrease in vaccinations is very concerning and increases the risks of outbreaks of these vaccine preventable diseases.
The World Health Organization estimates that more than 3 million lives are saved each year due to vaccinations. However, vaccine-preventable deaths still account for more than a million deaths worldwide each year. School is starting back up in early August, and the focus is directed on COVID-19 as a significant health risk. However, with the low numbers of immunizations this year, COVID-19 might not be the only thing that children will have to worry about this fall. Making sure your child is up to date on their vaccines can increase their chances of staying healthy this year and reduce health risks as they go back to school.
At this point in the pandemic, it is recommended to take your children to their routine doctor’s visits and to keep them up to date on their vaccines and their physical exams, developmental screenings, and other necessary care. The American Association of Pediatrics says that parents should not be afraid of going to see a doctor and that seeing physicians is crucial for their development and well-being.
Children and adults can be vaccinated at their local doctors’ offices with their primary care provider. In addition, medically certified pharmacies offer vaccines. For those who do not have a primary care provider, cannot afford to pay for vaccines, or do not want to schedule a doctor’s appointment, the Montgomery County Health Department has programs for both children and adults to get vaccinated free of charge. The Health Department will also begin billing insurance for those with private health insurance who wish to be vaccinated.
On top of vaccinating yourself and your children, we can also educate those around us and encourage them to receive their vaccinations this year. The CDC has all information regarding what vaccinations you need or call your doctor’s office or health department to ask for the recommended or required vaccines. August is vaccination awareness month, and with school right around the corner, it is up to us as a community to continue to spread the word to protect our community from these preventable diseases.
Cameron Martin, ’21 Wabash College, is an intern with the Montgomery County Health Department.