New data released by the Trump administration shows childhood vaccination rates and doctors’ visits for preventive care have “steeply declined” during the coronavirus pandemic.
Between March and May of this year, there was a 22 percent drop in vaccinations of children aged 2 and under who are enrolled in Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program, compared to the same time period last year.
There was a 44 percent drop in the number of screenings for autism, developmental delays and other conditions, and 69 percent fewer dental services, according to the analysis from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS).
“As a mother, I have witnessed first-hand how important early and regular access to screening and medical care is for children’s development,” CMS Administrator Seema Verma said in a statement.
“The absence of these vital health care services may have lifelong consequences for these vulnerable children, and I call on states, pediatric providers, families, and schools to ensure children catch-up on overdue medical, behavioral health and dental appointments as well as childhood immunizations,” she added.
Pediatricians and health experts have sounded the alarm for several months about the impact of the pandemic on childhood health care and vaccination rates. They suspect parents are avoiding doctors’ offices for fear of COVID-19.
While certain vaccinations are often required before a child can start school, many are doing virtual learning this year, removing a sense of urgency for the time being.
And while data shows services for children through telehealth have increased dramatically, CMS said, some services, like vaccinations, can only be done in person.
Missed childhood vaccinations also raised concerns of more outbreaks of preventable diseases like measles.
The U.S. saw one of the largest measles outbreaks in decades last year, mostly among adults and children who had not been vaccinated.
“To ensure that children catch up on their missed vaccines we need vaccination rates to not only approach those of 2019, but to be much higher, in order to mitigate the 22 percent dip during the early part of the COVID-19 [public health emergency],” CMS officials wrote in their analysis.
“This has not begun to happen, and increases the risk of transmission of vaccine-preventable illnesses, such as measles, mumps, and Haemophilus influenza. The potential for increased outbreaks of infectious disease due to decreased vaccinations is real, and can result in decreased school attendance, decreased learning, and increased childhood illness in general,” the analysis reads.