Study: COVID-19 pandemic led to lower immunization rates among children

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a decline in childhood immunization rates nationwide, a new study shows. 

The JAMA Pediatrics study led by the Health Partners Institute shows the rate of childhood immunizations declined in September 2020 as compared to September 2019.

The study looked at 1.4 million patients across eight health care systems. It found the decline in immunizations was largest between March 2020 and May 2020, especially among children under 6 years old. 

"This is a troubling ripple effect. The pandemic’s disruption to health care impacted routine pediatric visits including providing recommended immunizations," Malini DeSilva, MD, the first author on the study said in a news release. "Unfortunately, for most of the age groups we evaluated, immunization coverage did not recover to pre-pandemic levels, which leaves children vulnerable to dangerous infectious diseases. It’s likely that rates are still lagging today."

Researchers also looked at whether certain age groups were up to date on their vaccines. The study found only 74% of infants turning 7 months old in September 2020 were up to date. That number was 81% in September 2019. While among 18-month-olds, 57% were vaccinated in 2020 as compared to 61% in 2019.

Additionally, the study found the proportion of children up to date on immunizations was lowest in Black children. While disparities existed before the pandemic, the findings suggest they may have become more pronounced for 18-month-olds during the pandemic. 

The study concluded interventions are needed to promote catch-up vaccination, targeting populations in which vaccine coverage disparities existed prior to the pandemic.