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Child vaccination rates down in Nebraska due to COVID-19 fears

Vaccinations are down nationally and locally
Posted at 6:52 PM, May 29, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-29 19:52:32-04

OMAHA, Neb. — Pediatricians across the nation are seeing a dangerous decrease in routine vaccinations for children, and Nebraska is no different. State health officials say vaccinations for preventable illnesses like measles and polio are down - creating a dangerous situation for vulnerable children.

Ashley Herring gave birth to her daughter Alexia just a few weeks ago. She's doing everything she can to protect her and her son Gunner from COVID-19, even declining the chance for family to come visit in a typical fashion. Instead, family visited and interacted only through a glass door.

"It was really heartbreaking for us, they want to meet and hold our daughter and see our son," Herring said.

The mother of two is looking out for her children and is also getting them vaccinated. What worries her, is that other parents are not.

"My daughter is three weeks old...she can't have all the vaccines yet," she said. "I would hate to send her off to daycare and have her get something from an older kid."

According to new data from Centers for Disease Control (CDC), child vaccinations have plummeted since the start of the outbreak.

Findings from the CDC show that doctors are ordering about 2.5 million fewer doses of vaccines for preventable diseases due to lack of demand. Nebraska is seeing a similar trend.

"We're about seeing about half of what we usually do in this time frame," Children's Physicians Val Verde pediatrician Dr. Shannon Godsil said.

Data from the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services shows that child vaccination rates dropped 10 to 35 percent - depending on age. From the first four months of 2019 to the first four months of 2020, standard recommended child immunizations dropped 10 percent in children under two years of age, 32.8 percent in children two to seven years old and 35.1 percent in children seven to 17 years old.

Nebraska Department of Health and Human Service Child Immunization Data 2019-2020

The drop is a national trend, as parents fear exposing their children to COVID-19.

"Parents have concerns about coming into a clinic where they could be exposed to infection," Children's Hospital pediatrician Erin Willis Loucks said.

Health providers are taking drastic and creative steps to minimize risk at appointments and ease some of those fears.

"There's some of our offices that are doing split days where half of the day is well visits, half of the day is sick visits. And there's also physically split offices that are only seeing well visits and some that are only seeing sick so that there is no cross contamination," Dr. Godsil said.

With less children getting their regular vaccines, doctors worry that a preventable outbreak of diseases like measles or mumps will add to the difficulties of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"What would be very difficult is trying to manage not only the uncertainties of COVID-19, but some of these uncertainties of these vaccine preventable diseases that we haven't seen in a long time," Dr. Godsil added.

"My stance on it is vaccines are important and let's keep it at one pandemic not two," Herring said.

Call your pediatrician to find a right time and place to come in for vaccinations, because even though the spotlight is on COVID-19, other illnesses do have the ability to affect the health of your child.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has launched a new digital campaign, #CallYourPediatrician, to increase awareness on this issue and get parents to make that call and make that vaccination appointment.