NORFOLK, Va. - Vaccination rates for children in Virginia have seen a sharp decline during the COVID-19 crisis, and state leaders and pediatricians fear it could create a dangerous scenario.
“Due to COVID-19, we’re starting to see a decline in immunizations,” said Governor Ralph Northam during his statewide briefing Monday. “Parents are opting not to take their children to the pediatrician for their vaccines. As a pediatrician, this is very concerning. Vaccinations are a critical protection for children and communities. We don’t want to see an outbreak of a preventable disease such as measles on top of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
According to the Virginia chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, a survey of 111 Virginia pediatric providers found the administration of the measles, mumps and rubella vaccines to infants during a week in April was 70% of the volume administered during a week in early March.
CHKD Medical Group practices saw similar declines for diphtheria, tetanus, and whooping cough vaccines. Vaccines for measles, mumps and rubella were 80% of earlier levels, and HPV vaccines at only 47%.
“Measles is actually very contagious,” said Dr. Natasha Sriraman, a pediatrician at General Academic Pediatrics at Children's Hospital of The King's Daughters. “God forbid, we don’t want one child to get it and they’re not vaccinated and it spreads through the community.”
Dr. Sriraman said some parents may be waiting until the pandemic is over, but she said that’s a risky move.
“I wish I could look in a crystal ball and say, 'Yes, we’re going to be done by June and we’re going to catch everyone up,' but we don’t know that,” said Dr. Sriraman. “What happens if we’re still limited two and three months from now?”
Dr. Sriraman said pediatric offices are adhering to strict social distancing guidelines. Many practices are separating sick visits and well visits for vaccines in different areas of the building or designating specific times of day for sick or well visits. She urged parents to call their doctor’s office with any concerns before deciding to cancel an appointment.