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Pediatricians report 'scary dip' in routine childhood vaccines, well-child visits

During the pandemic, many families did not bring their children for routine doctor's office visits and vaccines. Pediatricians urge families to get back on track.
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Close up of doctor makes an injection to the little patient with syringe at office. Closeup of nurse giving an injection to a little girl in a hospital. Detail hand of pediatrician making an flu vaccine on arm of child.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a major backslide in routine childhood immunizations and well-child visits, according to pediatricians who are urging parents to begin scheduling appointments before kids return to school.

"During the pandemic, many parents and caregivers stopped bringing children for routine doctor visits, out of fear of potentially contracting COVID in the office," said Dr. Catherine Ohmstede, a pediatrician with Novant Health in Charlotte.

“We saw a scary dip in childhood vaccinations,” Ohmstede said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 17 Million children missed their vaccines during 2020.

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“There was just this incredible off-the-cliff drop-off of our well-child visits and our immunizations went off at the same time,” said Dr. Deborah Greenhouse, a pediatrician with Prisma Health.

Researchers found adolescents experienced the greatest decline in missed immunizations. Vaccinations against illnesses like measles, pertussis/whooping cough and HPV saw the greatest declines, according to the CDC.

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Doses of the MMR vaccine dropped by 63% among children ages 2 to 8. Children aged 9 to12 declined 66% in their TDAP vaccines. The lack of vaccinations could give rise to clusters of infections of measles or whooping cough, Greenhouse said.

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“That’s a huge risk,” she said.

Both South Carolina and North Carolina have laws requiring vaccinations for children at certain ages and grade levels.

According to public health officials, children are not allowed to attend school (whether public, private or religious) or a child care facility unless they have received all immunizations appropriate for their age.

Ohmstede urged parents to contact their pediatricians to ensure their children are on schedule.

Contact Tanya Mendis at tmendis@wcnc.com and follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

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