CDC report shows decline in childhood vaccinations, Alabama is not excluded
If this trend continues, risks of diseases returning are possible.
DOTHAN, Ala. (WTVY) - Health experts are urging parents to be sure their children are up to date with their childhood vaccinations. This comes after one of the recent Morbidity and Mortality reports by the CDC showing a steady one percent decline in vaccinations for kindergartners nationwide for the past two school years. This results in at least 250,000 kindergartners in the U.S. potentially not being protected against measles.
Dr. Wes Stubblefield with the Alabama Department of Public Health said Alabama is not excluded from the decline.
“The trends have shown that, especially in the younger kids, we’ve seen a consistent and steady decrease over the past few years in the number of children who are completely up to date with the vaccines that they need,” Dr. Stubblefield said.
Dr. Nola Ernest is a pediatrician at Enterprise Pediatric Clinic. She said if this trend continues, risks of diseases returning are possible.
“This decrease in our historically high vaccination rates can allow vaccine preventable diseases to come back,” Dr. Ernest, the President of the Alabama Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, said.
She adds that germs, viruses and bacteria vary in how contagious they are.
“Because they can vary in how contagious they are some that are very, very contagious actually require very high levels of vaccination to stay out of our communities and as those vaccine rates drop, we can start to get some of those diseases in our communities,” Dr. Ernest said.
Dr. Stubblefield said children who are incomplete with their vaccination series are susceptible to potential serious infectious diseases.
“Such as measles and polio, whooping cough, chicken pox, all of these diseases are vaccine preventable and most cases can be avoided or substantially reduced by the vaccinations,” Dr. Stubblefield said.
There are several factors behind the decline seen statewide and here in the wiregrass.
One several health officials attribute: the spread of misinformation.
“Many parents had concerns about the safety and effectiveness of our vaccine supply stemming from COVID-19 vaccines but then spreading into other vaccines as well,” Dr. Stubblefield.
Dr. Ernest said this causes hesitation.
“We are seeing what we call ‘vaccines hesitancy,’ and people being concerned about the effects of vaccines in their children,” Dr. Ernest said. “Pediatricians can confirm that vaccines are safe and effective and that they save lives.”
Another issue is the difficulty accessing these vaccines.
“Not all counties here have pediatricians and so many of our families have to travel to the pediatrician and that causes an increased burden on the family,” Dr. Ernest said. “That travel means families have to miss work, they have to have gas money and they have to have a vehicle to go see a pediatrician in another county and so that barrier of just access to care causes some delay and decrease in vaccinations.”
Dr. Stubblefield agrees this also attributed to the decline in vaccinations; although he adds there are a variety of ways that children get their vaccinations in the first few years of life such as pediatricians, family practitioners, nurse practitioners and health departments.
“Some of the more populous counties there is more access and in some of the more rural counties can be particularly difficult and so we worry about barriers to care and cost and access, insurance coverage.”
Dr. Ernest said the forced lockdown from the COVID-19 pandemic also put a halt to some patients getting their vaccinations on time.
“There was definitely an increase barrier to care,” Dr. Ernest said. “So, fewer people could come physically to the pediatrician’s office, and this is where you get vaccines.”
Dr. Stubblefield emphasizes these vaccines in discussion have been around for decades.
“The CDC and the FDA have very intricate monitoring systems that monitor for any sort of adverse events that may come from vaccines,” Dr. Stubblefield said. “Our vaccines have been, the ones that are recommended right now in childhood, have been in place for upwards of 20 years and even the youngest vaccines, and that’s not including the COVID vaccine, but even the youngest vaccine is at least 20 years old.
“So, we have hundreds and hundreds of millions of doses that are given in the United States, and then if you think about worldwide, it’s even more because most kids worldwide are vaccinated for the same things that are in the United States, although there are differences country to country. So, the vaccine supply is safe. It is one of the major contributors to public health, keeping our children safe and well over the course of their childhood.
“It’s not that many years ago that children died of these diseases over and over again in childhood. We have made a tremendous amount of progress and we want people to know that there are well intentioned and good and safe practices for children to get their vaccines and to stay safe and healthy and stay in school and learn and be productive adults.”
Dr. Ernest said these vaccine have prevented the worst case scenario.
“Vaccines are safe, vaccines are effective, and vaccines save lives,” Dr. Ernest said. “The historically high rates of vaccination that we have enjoyed in Alabama have prevented many, hundreds of thousands of cases of diseases and death in Alabama and we would like to see that continue.”
Dr. Ernest adds parents who have questions or concerns regarding their children and their vaccination status need to consult with their pediatrician.
She adds at Enterprise, pediatric education for pediatricians is put at the forefront. They also do outreach for their patients to ensure they are up to date on their vaccines.
“Our first step is that all of our pediatricians are well educated in vaccines and so we like to share that information with families,” Dr. Ernest said. “We do that on our social media, but we also do that most importantly in those one-on-one encounters. The other steps that we take is we actually monitor vaccination rates in children and we have a system in place where we can call back to families that are missing their vaccines and help to figure out how to get those children to the clinic to have those important conversations and also to monitor their other diseases and protect them from other childhood illnesses.”
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