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Vaccination rates drop nationwide as parents fear exposing kids to coronavirus

High Country Health Care’s Ann St. Louis prepares an injection at the Dillon clinic in 2016. Doctors say there has been a nationwide decline in immunizations since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic.
Reid Williams / Summit Daily

KEYSTONE — Nationwide, orders for childhood non-influenza and measles vaccinations have been on the decline since the first outbreak of the novel coronavirus, which suggests fewer people are vaccinating their kids. 

A study published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention examined data from national vaccine tracking databases to find that vaccination orders have dropped dramatically since March 13, when President Donald Trump declared a national emergency. 

In the study, researchers suggested that parental concerns about potentially exposing their children to the virus during routine doctor appointments is likely the cause of the decline in activity. 

Dr. Elizabeth Winfield, a family physician with High Country Health Care in Frisco, said the practice saw an initial drop in well child visits when the shutdown first went into place. 

“We were very acutely aware that we did not want vaccination rates to go down,” Winfield said.

Vaccines are incredibly effective at developing heard immunity, which prevents the spread of other infectious diseases such as measles and mumps. An earlier outbreak of mumps at Keystone Resort shows how quickly the diseases can spread, Winfield said. 

“It only takes a small foothold to grow like wildfire,” she said. 

Without vaccinating their babies early, parents are increasing the risk of their children not developing an immunity over time.

“Babies’ immune systems are so unique in needing boosters over time that falling off that vaccine schedule, they are losing the opportunity for immunity,” she said. 

Winfield believes her patients were afraid to go to the doctor because of mixed messaging.

“We were on a stay-at-home order, so we were being told you’re not supposed to leave for anything,” she said. “In the fine print, it says for medical care, but people were like, ‘Well, I’m not sick. Do I still have to?’”

Patients also were concerned about catching the virus, especially those with young children. While doctors’ offices were operating under increased restrictions during the stay-at-home order, Winfield said High Country Health Care physicians administered vaccines from patients’ cars. 

Now, patients can visit the clinic in person for any type of appointment. All three High Country Health Care clinics have put social distancing measures in place. The clinics have people come directly from their cars to the doctors’ office so there is no waiting in line. Waiting rooms also are closed, so that people won’t be exposed to one another, and doctors are using personal protective equipment to prevent the spread of the virus.

When it comes to vaccinations, however, not much has changed, Winfield said. 

“The shots are still shots,” she said. “We’re still gonna have to get close to you and poke you in the arm or the leg for your shot.”


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