Children in the United States are well on their way this year to miss nine million doses of vaccine for measles, polio, and other highly contagious diseases.
The data was released on Wednesday by the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, one of the largest associations of insurance companies in the country, which found routine vaccinations for children had decreased by up to 26 percent compared to 2019.
The results were released less than two weeks after the World Health Organization and UNICEF warned that the pandemic and measles were about to make progress in vaccinating children from the pandemic. On a 911 call to action, the two organizations said the risk of measles and polio outbreaks had increased.
And just last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and WHO reported that global measles deaths in 2019 had risen to its highest level in 23 years, 50 percent higher than three years ago.
Dr. Megan Ranney, an emergency doctor at Brown University in Rhode Island who specializes in public health research, said non-compliance with vaccination rates in children could put what is known as herd immunity at risk. The term refers to the point at which a disease stops spreading because almost everyone in a population has become immune to it.
“We know that once these deadly childhood diseases get below herd immunity, they can regain a foothold in our communities,” said Dr. Ranney in an interview.
Blue Cross Blue Shield said 40 percent of parents and guardians surveyed said their children missed their vaccinations because of the pandemic. Most of the missed appointments were from March to May at the start of the pandemic, and August, when many children typically get vaccinated before school resumes, the association said.
Representatives from Blue Cross, which has health insurance for around 109 million Americans, said it was important to raise awareness about the safety precautions that health professionals have been taking to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
“Pediatric offices not only look after their patients, they also look after the people who work there,” said Maureen Sullivan, director of strategy and innovation at the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, in an interview. “At this point it is safe.”
Ms. Sullivan said the United States was “dangerously close” to being below the herd immunity threshold for polio. According to the Blue Cross, vaccination rates for measles and whooping cough or pertussis are likely to fall below the herd immunity thresholds set by health authorities.
“That’s a major reason we wanted to release this data quickly,” said Ms. Sullivan.
Dr. Ranney, unrelated to the Blue Cross study, noted that there were measles outbreaks in California and suburban New York last year, the spread of which was attributed to ultra-Orthodox families whose children had not been vaccinated were.
“It would be a terrible irony for us to get through this pandemic and lose children to these preventable diseases,” she said.
Dr. Ranney also raised concerns that the intense national debate over the safety of vaccines being developed for the coronavirus could discourage some parents from getting their children vaccinated against measles, polio and other infectious diseases.
In a sign that Americans are less reluctant to take a coronavirus vaccine, a Gallup poll released Tuesday found 58 percent of adults surveyed were willing to get vaccinated, up from 50 percent in September. Nevertheless, Dr. Ranney worries about perceptions.
“I am concerned that the existing misinformation about vaccines is being compounded,” she said.