Kentucky Childhood Immunization Rates Plummet Amid Pandemic

Health experts say they are concerned about the confluence of COVID-19, flu season and the potential for other infectious-disease outbreaks.

Childhood vaccinations have dropped nationwide since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. - Photo: AdobeStock
Photo: AdobeStock
Childhood vaccinations have dropped nationwide since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

There's been a sharp decline in vaccination rates among Kentucky children since the onset of the coronavirus. And health experts say they are concerned about the confluence of COVID-19, flu season and the potential for other infectious-disease outbreaks.

The state's Department of Medicaid Services reports among Medicaid recipients, from March through June of this year, immunization rates fell by 28% among children younger than 2 years old and dropped by 46% among children 4-6 years old.

CEO of the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky Ben Chandler said his organization has launched a campaign called Raise Your Guard, KY, aimed at improving the state's vaccination rates.

"Some of the diseases, like mumps and measles and other things that we have virtually gotten rid of, they'll come back if we don't get enough people vaccinated," Chandler said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were 17 measles outbreaks in 2018, with the majority of cases occurring in New York and New Jersey, among unvaccinated people in Orthodox Jewish communities.

The Raise Your Guard, KY campaign urges Kentuckians to contact their physicians to get themselves and their families back on track with scheduled immunizations. Residents can find more information at RaiseYourGuardKY.org.

Religion and concern about health risks are the primary reasons parents chose not to immunize their children. Dr. Dale Toney, president of the Kentucky Medical Association, said now many parents are worried about potential exposure to COVID-19. But he said visiting your doctor is one of the safest trips you can take.

"Seeing your health care provider is a safe thing to do," Toney said. "We wear masks, we wear gloves, the rooms are sanitized, and we even have special rooms where to do testing for COVID people and the non-COVID type patients."

Chandler said even before the COVID-19 crisis, less than half of infants and toddlers in some counties were immunized against chicken pox, polio, rubella and meningitis.

"It's hard to really say why there's been a decline, but I think there's been a lot of misinformation," Chandler said. "The evidence is that, number one, they are safe, and number two, they work."

Public health officials also are urging residents to get the flu vaccine to stay healthy and prevent COVID-strained hospitals from experiencing a deluge of sick patients this flu season. Frequent hand washing, staying home when sick, and staying socially distant are all methods to reduce the spread of the flu.

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