The pandemic has led to a sharp decline in routine vaccinations, which prevent diseases like the measles, mumps and rubella.
Years, decades and in some cases, centuries before Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson developed vaccines for the coronavirus, Americans routinely received traditional vaccinations to prevent common illnesses.
Gene Ransom, the Maryland State Medical Society CEO, says the pandemic has had a tremendous effect on students’ regular annual immunizations as they return to classrooms.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a significant and troubling drop in routine immunization rates because many parents in Maryland, and across the country, were forced to delay or cancel annual health care services and well-child visits in the wake of stay-at-home orders,” Ransom told The Baltimore Times.
According to the University of Maryland Medical System, pre-kindergarten immunization rates fell an astounding 76 percent last year.
Ransom says that early childhood vaccinations, such as the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine, are critical for stopping the spread of easily communicable diseases.
Children routinely received two doses for those traditional vaccines – the first dose at 12 to 15 months and the second at four to six-years-old.
“With childhood vaccination rates declining due to COVID, many Maryland children may be vulnerable to other dangerous vaccine-preventable illnesses,” Ransom said.
Officials haven’t seen the data on how declining immunization rates might prevent students from returning to classrooms, but schools typically require up-to-date vaccines to enroll.
“However, we do know diseases like measles, influenza and rubella spread more easily when those who are unvaccinated are together in close quarters,” Ransom explained.
“Our communities are continuing to battle the COVID-19 pandemic as the Delta variant is causing an increase of cases across Maryland,” he added. “Many of our local health systems, hospitals, and urgent care facilities have been stretched to their limits due to the pandemic, with hospitals reaching capacities and health care providers working around the clock on the front lines.
“An outbreak of another vaccine- preventable communicable disease could be disastrous for public health and our state’s ability to recover from the pandemic.”
Ransom further noted the effect that COVID-19 has had on racial and ethnic minority groups, leaving them at a higher risk of getting sick and dying from the coronavirus.
“Black Americans are three times more likely to be infected with— and twice as likely to die from— COVID-19 than White Americans,” Ransom offered.
Black Marylanders make up a significant portion of state resident cases and deaths, with 156,710 known cases and 3,536 deaths, according to Ransom.
“COVID-19 is not the only disease that disproportionately affects African Americans. For example, we also know that Black Americans have the highest flu-related ICU admission rates,” Ransom concluded.
“It’s imperative that African Americans, along with all communities of color, take the necessary steps to ensure their regular immunizations are up to date to avoid contracting a dangerous communicable illness and safeguard their health.”
Finally, Ransom noted that as Maryland continues to battle the COVID-19 pandemic, everyone must also remain vigilant against the threat of other vaccine-preventable illnesses.
“Many Maryland families are now enjoying the waning days of summer and participating in annual rites such as back-to-school shopping,” Ransom wrote.
“We urge those families to add to their to-do list a conversation with their physician about catching up on routine immunizations. No child in Maryland should fall victim to serious and potentially deadly illnesses, particularly when safe and effective vaccines are so readily available.”