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Drop in childhood vaccinations worries pediatricians, public health experts

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Drop in childhood vaccinations worries pediatricians, public health experts

The COVID-19 vaccine has been at the forefront of our national conscious in recent months, but it’s also vitally important for parents to keep in mind the importance of routine vaccinations for their children.
Studies show many parents delayed their children’s vaccinations during the height of the pandemic. Although vaccination rates subsequently rebounded significantly, they still lag well behind pre-pandemic levels.
Organizations such as the American Academy of Pediatrics are concerned the drop in immunizations could lead to outbreaks of measles, whooping cough and other diseases. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has warned of a “serious public health threat” if childhood vaccination rates don’t pick up.

Time to get caught up

Dr. Jill Aiken, a pediatrician with Tidelands Health Pediatrics on Holmestown Road in Myrtle Beach, says she is strongly encouraging parents to make sure their kids are caught up on vaccinations.
“If a lower rate of people are vaccinated and they go about their normal routine, communicable diseases can easily spread,” Dr. Aiken says. “As you and your children go back out and resume normal activities, it’s important to make sure their vaccines are up to date.”

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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, far fewer kids received vaccines against measles, pertussis (whooping cough) and HPV in 2020 than previous years, and the number was particularly low among kids 2 and older. For example, the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccination rate dropped by an average of 63 percent among children 2-8 years old.

Serious illnesses

“Measles and pertussis, in particular, are serious diseases,” Dr. Aiken says. “Measles may be even more contagious than coronavirus. There’s a very high chance that if someone in the household gets measles, everyone will get it.”
Dr. Aiken says the Tdap booster shot children receive at age 11 was added to the recommended vaccination schedule because breakthrough cases of pertussis were occurring.
“We still see outbreaks of pertussis occur. It’s a horrible disease. If you hear the cough, you’ll never forget it. You really think your child is dying,” she says.

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Whooping cough is especially dangerous for infants younger than 6 months, so older kids and adults should receive boosters to help protect them, Dr. Aiken says.
Over the past year, viruses such as influenza and RSV haven’t had the chance to circulate as easily due to mask wearing, social distancing and working and learning from home. Now that things are opening back up, Dr. Aiken says viruses can spread much more easily, which could lead to breakthrough cases of measles and whooping cough.
“I can’t emphasize enough the importance of the MMR and pertussis vaccines. All vaccines are important, but these two are especially critical for children to receive to help maintain herd immunity,” Dr Aiken says.
If you’re not sure if your child is up to date on vaccinations, contact your child’s pediatrician or other qualified provider to find out, Dr. Aiken says. If your child is behind, make an appointment to get caught up as soon as possible.
“The time and effort involved in getting your child vaccinated is well worth it,” Dr. Aiken says. “You’ll get peace of mind, and your child will benefit from protection from some very serious – and potentially life-threatening – illnesses.”

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