COVID-19’s unfortunate impact on our society is apparent, from our public health, to our economy, to our politics. However, a lesser-known trend that COVID-19 has exacerbated is a decline in regular child immunizations such as the influenza vaccine, also known as the flu shot. This is interesting to consider, given the increasing prominence of anti-vaxxers during the pandemic. Currently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is researching why this trend exists.
A study done by Murthy et al. highlighted a few reasons for this unusual situation. First off, the stay-at-home order in early quarantine greatly decreased the number of child immunizations. Since people were encouraged to reduce outdoor activities as much as possible, clinics saw an inevitable decrease in appointments and immunizations. While it was also shown that up-to-date vaccination rates increased after the lockdown was lifted, it did not increase enough to make up for the previous decrease. This raises the question: why haven’t child vaccination rates rebounded completely? Exact reasons are unknown, as we are still living in an ongoing pandemic, but there are some proposed theories.
First off, parents may fear the presence of COVID-19 in healthcare settings and don’t want their child to get infected. People unknowingly positive with COVID-19 may come in for appointments at a primary care provider and transmit the virus to other unsuspecting individuals. Additionally, children under five are not able to be vaccinated against the coronavirus at the moment, as per CDC guidelines. This adds another layer of fear since they aren’t as protected, especially if they suffer from preexisting conditions. However, many health clinics now require COVID screening before coming in for an appointment. They ask questions such as, “Have you been in contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19?,” or “Have you tested positive for COVID-19 recently?” This largely limits the amount of infected individuals who might otherwise come in for a visit and spread the virus. Even though it is not a completely foolproof preventative measure, it can alleviate many fears parents of young children may have in bringing their children in for vaccinations.
Secondly, this pandemic has also seen a rise in the anti-vaxxer movement—which consists of individuals that do not want to get vaccinated for COVID-19. Given how far-fetched some theories are, including government microchipping, such fears are misplaced. While this anti-vax movement is specific to the COVID-19 vaccine, it could also be inciting a general distrust of vaccinations, potentially causing the overall decrease in child immunizations.
Given this decrease, we should put a greater emphasis on the importance of getting vaccinated. Alongside existing federal and state vaccination mandates for entry to schools and workplaces, the government can enforce stricter measures to increase vaccination rates. Since the United States is seeing such a prominent anti-vax movement, it seems that we need more effective policy measures and better vaccine education and outreach. Vaccine outreach clinics in rural and impoverished areas would help individuals in these “healthcare deserts” who have less access to treatments. Most importantly, proper education about how vaccines work and how to prevent illness should be emphasized in schools and in the public sphere. This could include having general assemblies in school and work about vaccinations, or even advertisements across multiple media sites. Perhaps we will see vaccination rates return to baseline and hopefully even increase with these measures.