CASA GRANDE — As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, experts say that childhood immunization rates are slipping.
“We’ve seen a pretty big drop in vaccinations since COVID19,” said Michele Reimer, Pinal Region community outreach coordinator for First Things First. “We’re reminding parents of the importance of vaccinating their children.”
In a press release issued by First Things First, the agency said that since the COVID-19 pandemic began, there has been an estimated 50% drop in vaccination orders compared to the same time last year for standard vaccinations for preventable diseases including measles, mumps and rubella.
Because of the pandemic, some parents are skipping or falling behind on regular well-child visits for their children. When well-child visits are skipped, standard childhood immunizations are often missed, the press release said.
“We’re trying to help families navigate this new normal,” said FTF Senior Director for Children’s Health Vincent Torres, who is part of a team of state agencies tasked with looking at challenges that COVID-19 is having on Arizona families.
In Pinal County, public health clinics saw a 44% decrease in immunizations from April, May and June of 2019 compared to the same months in 2020, Marcela Salinas, clinical services division manager for Pinal County Public Health, said in the press release.
To keep patients safe during office visits, Pinal County Public Health has limited the number of clients allowed in clinic lobbies and increased cleaning and disinfecting routines. Those in the clinic are required to wear masks.
“Immunizations continue to be considered a primary prevention method and are our first line of defense,” Salinas said. “To ensure we do not experience any outbreaks or epidemics for vaccine-preventable diseases, it is extremely important that we continue to vaccinate throughout this pandemic, so that we may have the best chance in maintaining healthy communities.”
Experts fear that skipped childhood immunizations could result in a surge in diseases such as measles, mumps and rubella.
“The risk comes in very young children who need to get their basic immunizations in the first 24 months of life,” Debbie McCune, executive director of Arizona Partnership for Immunization, said in the press release. “As they fall behind, the risk for measles, whooping cough and other preventable diseases becomes greater.”
TAPI is working statewide to raise awareness.
“It’s a concern shared by many in the health care community, especially members of the Arizona Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, which recently kicked off a Back to the Office campaign to reassure parents that pediatrician offices are open, safe and ready to see children for their well-child checkups,” the press release said.
Glendale pediatrician Dr. Jason Vargas said his office has seen a drop in well-child visits since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
“Eighty to 90 percent of families were simply not bringing their children in,” said Vargas, who is president-elect of AzAAP. “There was a lack of information out there saying that it was OK to visit your pediatrician.”
His staff has been calling families to urge them to bring children in for the well-child visits.
Vargas said pediatrics offices are taking many precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“What we can do is observe what has happened in the past. When vaccine coverage rates slip below 95%, it’s easier for measles to spread,” McCune said. “As numbers slide downward, the protection in the community begins to erode. Instead of random cases of pertussis or measles, it can spread to children without the vaccine. We need to keep our protective shield up.”
She said people should trust their health care provider.
“In time, there will be a vaccine for COVID-19, but it would be terrible if we don’t do what we can to keep young children up-to-date and protected from diseases that we can prevent,” she said.