Image via Shutterstock.
Image via Shutterstock.

Routine immunizations for childhood diseases have decreased by an alarming rate, leading to an elevated risk for outbreaks in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Children in the United States are on track to miss nine million doses of vaccinations against measles, whooping cough, polio, and other communicable diseases this year, according to a report released by insurers Blue Cross Blue Shield Association (BCBS) Wednesday. 

Vaccinations are down by as much as 26% compared to this time last year, making it possible that we could see outbreaks for largely eradicated illnesses in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

BCBS found 40% of parents and legal guardians said they missed routine vaccinations for their children because of restrictions or complications due to COVID. These shortfalls occurred mainly in the early waves of the pandemic, from March to May and again in August. The rate of vaccinations for measles and whooping cough dropped 26% from 2019, while polio shots are down by 16%.

“The U.S. is on the precipice of a severe immunization crisis among children,” Dr. Vincent Nelson, chief medical officer at BCBSA, told CNN. “The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly interrupted adherence to vaccination schedules, and the possibility that preventable diseases, like polio, could become a threat to public health once again is particularly concerning.”

The situation is exacerbated by the rise in popularity of anti-vaccination theories. At least one in five US children had a “vaccine hesitant” parent last year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). After years of being kept at bay, recent outbreaks of mumps and pertussis, or whooping cough, have occurred, and yearly flu vaccinations among children are also much too low, the CDC says. Without increased immunizations, these diseases could reemerge as widespread and lethal agents.

“The United States is at risk of widespread outbreaks of preventable disease,” BCBSA’s statement read. “If current trends continue, the U.S. would fall dangerously below the vaccination levels for measles and whooping cough that the CDC says are needed to protect community health.”