Children have not been getting their shots during the pandemic

For more than a century, public health in the United States has consistently improved because of advances in medical science and personal care. But for nearly three years, a key component of that march of progress has wavered and started to retreat.

Public health officials are alarmed that childhood vaccination rates in Wayne County and the rest of the United States have declined since 2019. Wayne County has shown a nearly 6% decline in the percentage of children under 3 years old who have completed the most common series of vaccinations.

In response, the Wayne County Health Department has organized a Vaccine Summit and is inviting parents and health professionals to attend. The free activity will be from 5-9 p.m. Thursday in Lingle Hall at Reid Health, 1100 Reid Parkway, Richmond. Panelists include a former U.S. surgeon general, the current Indiana Health Commissioner and an expert in vaccine hesitancy. Health care providers will have booths explaining their services.

Since 2019, completion of the most commonly measured vaccination series – called 4:3:1:3:3:1:4 — among children between 19 to 35 months has dropped from 77.1% to 71.2% in Wayne County. Statewide, the decline is steeper, having fallen from 70% in 2019 to 61% in 2021. Indiana’s rate is among the lowest in the U.S.

The Vaccine Summit is not about COVID-19 immunization. However, the pandemic affected how parents viewed the necessity for childhood immunizations. With pandemic restrictions put in place after March 13, 2020, many parents stopped taking their children for what had been routine vaccinations.

Indiana 2022-2023 Required and Recommended School Immunizations. Supplied by the Indiana Department of Health, Immunization Division.

The Children & Hoosiers Immunization Registry Program reported that in April 2020, the number of non-flu vaccinations ordered for children 18 and under fell by more than 93,000 doses – nearly a 47% decrease compared to April 2019, according to a June 19, 2020, report by Indiana Public Media.

As part of that report, Dr. Katharine Head, one of the panelists for Thursday’s Vaccine Summit, said, “I think people are scared, and they’re trying to navigate keeping their families safe. And they may not see preventive behaviors as the most important thing to focus on when we’re facing a global pandemic.”

But with the pandemic now halfway through its third year and most restrictions lifted, childhood vaccinations are still waning. The result may be the reappearance of illnesses and diseases that had nearly been wiped out, said Christine Stinson, Wayne County Health Department executive director. Evidence of that is being found in other parts of the U.S.

Polio – a scourge causing paralysis and death until the 1960s – may already be making a comeback, she said.

“What does it mean that we’re seeing polio in wastewater in New York City? Here’s a disease we’ve all thought was eradicated,” she said. “We’re seeing it in New York City, but not in Indiana — but that’s because we’re not testing (wastewater) for it (in Indiana).”

Panelists for the Vaccine Summit include Dr. Jerome Adams, who served as U.S. surgeon general from 2017-2021 under President Donald Trump; Dr. Kristina Box, the current Indiana Health Commissioner; and Head, an associate professor in the Department of Communication Studies at IUPUI and chairman of the advisory committee for the Indiana Immunization Coalition.

Community health vendors will be available at the Vaccine Summit from 5-6 p.m. Speakers will start at 6 p.m., beginning with a fireside chat by Dr. Adams. For more information about the event, contact the Wayne County Health Department, 765-973-9245 option 3.

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