NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKNR) — With so many students learning from home, doctors across Middle Tennessee are seeing fewer children getting their back-to-school immunizations.
“Clearly a trend that we’re seeing is families are missing their appointments. And when we have been in touch with some of these families, they’re just afraid,” said Dr. Joseph Gigante, professor of pediatrics at Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital. “One of the unintended consequences of that has been this marked decrease in immunization rates.”
According to the Tennessee Department of Health, vaccination rates have dropped by as much as 40% over the last several months.
“We have a lot of 4 to 6-year-olds that are missing their second measles vaccine because of COVID-19,” said Dr. Michelle Fiscus, director of the Tennessee Vaccine Preventable Diseases and Immunization Program. “When we start to see those immunization coverage rates drop below 95% that is where we can start to see measles take off in communities.”
This also brings down protection for children who can’t get vaccines, like kids who are immunocompromised.
“The big thing that scares me is just kids are now at risk for getting a vaccine-preventable disease,” Dr. Gigante said.
Although measles is a major concern, it’s not the only disease health officials are worried about making a comeback.
“There’s a lot of providers who’ve actually never seen a case of chickenpox, so that’s one that we could see come back,” Dr. Fiscus said. “We could see pertussis start to cause more problems.”
Now, those same diseases are the ones keeping health experts up at night.
“The threat of vaccine-preventable diseases is also still really real and we need to make sure that while we’re avoiding COVID-19, we’re also doing everything we can to avoid the diseases that we can prevent,” Dr. Fiscus said.
Doctors across the state are doing everything they can to make sure families feel safe on appointments. They’re offering things like things like separate waiting rooms for sick patients, fully sanitizing rooms in between patients, and some are even offering drive-thru vaccines.
“It’s safe for you to leave your home and bring your child into your child’s pediatrician or whatever clinic where they get thier healthcare and get in to get their checkups and get thier vaccines,” Dr. Gigante said.
Another major concern this year is adding a flu outbreak on top of the COVID-19 pandemic. That’s why doctors are urging you to get in and get your flu shot early.