Children in the United States are set to miss nine million doses of vaccine against measles, polio and other highly contagious diseases this year, according to medical claims data – a disruption that health officials have called alarming and attributed to the coronavirus pandemic.
The data was released to the public on Wednesday by the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, one of the nation’s largest federations of insurance companies, which said routine childhood immunizations for children were down 26% from 2019.
The results came less than two weeks after the World Health Organization and UNICEF warned that progress in immunizing children against polio and measles was threatened by the pandemic. In an emergency call to action, the two organizations said the risk of measles and polio outbreaks was increasing.
And last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the WHO reported that worldwide measles deaths reached their highest level in 23 years in 2019 and were 50% higher than three years earlier. .
Dr Megan Ranney, an emergency physician at Brown University in Rhode Island who specializes in public health research, said failure to maintain vaccine levels in children could compromise what’s known as collective immunity. The term refers to the time when a disease stops spreading because almost everyone in a population has become immune to it.
“We know that once you fall below herd immunity, it allows these deadly childhood illnesses to rise again in our communities,” Dr Ranney said in an interview.
Blue Cross Blue Shield said 40% of parents and legal guardians surveyed said their children had not been vaccinated because of the pandemic. The majority of missed appointments were from March through May, at the start of the pandemic, and in August, when many children typically get vaccinated before school resumes, the association said.
Representatives for Blue Cross, which provides health insurance to around 109 million Americans, said it was essential to raise public awareness of the safeguards that medical professionals have in place to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
“Pediatrician offices care, not only for the patients, but also for the staff who work there,” Maureen Sullivan, chief strategy and innovation officer for the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, said in an interview. “At this point, that’s for sure.”
Ms Sullivan said the United States was “dangerously close” to falling below the group immunity threshold for polio. According to data from the Blue Cross, vaccination rates against measles and pertussis, or pertussis, for 2020 are expected to fall below the collective immunity thresholds set by public authorities.
“This is one of the main reasons we wanted to release this data quickly,” said Ms. Sullivan.
Dr Ranney, who was not associated with the Blue Cross study, noted that there were measles outbreaks last year in California and a New York suburb, where the spread had been attributed to ultra-Orthodox families whose children had not been vaccinated.
“It would be a horrible irony for us to go through this pandemic and lose children to these preventable diseases,” she said.
Dr Ranney also expressed concern that the intense national debate over the safety of vaccines being developed for the coronavirus could discourage some parents from getting their children vaccinated against measles, polio and other infectious diseases. .
As a sign that Americans are less reluctant to take a coronavirus vaccine, a Gallup poll released on Tuesday said 58% of adults polled were ready to get the vaccine, up from 50% in September. Still, Dr Ranney worried about perceptions.
“I am concerned that anti-vaccine misinformation is escalating,” she said.