Study lead by local HealthPartners researchers found child immunization rates fell during pandemic

A national study, lead by local researchers from HealthPartners, found that immunization rates for diseases like measles and chickenpox fell during the pandemic.

Dr. Malini DeSilva said their study found that, in 2019, 81% of seven month olds had all of the CDC-recommended vaccinations for that age group. In 2020, that number fell to 74%. And that is just one example of an age group that saw falling numbers.

"I think a lot of it is likely due to people’s fear of going into the doctor’s office or their medical office because they don’t want to be exposed to COVID," Dr. DeSilva said. "There also may have been some miscommunication initially about whether or not you should go in to receive routine care."

Dr. DeSilva encourages families to bring children in for routine checkups and preventative care measures like vaccinations. She says it’s never too late to catch up and if families don’t, they run the risk of being part of an outbreak.

"We see a drop in that coverage level which, over time, can impact community health and have different significance for the potential for outbreaks of diseases to occur," Dr. DeSilva said.

Schools in St. Paul, for example, are feeling that impact. Mary Langworthy, director of health and wellness at St. Paul Public Schools, said at the beginning of this summer 6,000 of their students were not vaccinated. By providing vaccination clinics and helping families connect with resources she says the district now has around 3,100 students that are not up to date on their immunizations.

"We’re really concerned about a potential outbreak like measles or chickenpox on top of COVID," Langworthy said.

While students in Minnesota are required to have certain vaccinations at different age milestones to attend public school, the Minnesota Department of Health says the law in Minnesota allows school districts to set their own terms as to when families have to provide documentation proving vaccination.

A spokesperson from MDH said generally schools allow families a few months to get caught up on vaccinations before enforcing the rule. St. Paul has set a date for the end of this month.

"October 27 is our first exclusion date this year and on that date, we have the potential to exclude students on that date if they’re still not up to date," Langworthy said.

Langworthy is encouraging families to get up to date on their immunizations before that date and get in for routine checkups.

"We need people to know that going into preventative care is really important," Langworthy said.

By December 1, school districts have to submit immunization information to the Minnesota Department of Health as part of their Annual Immunizations Status Report.

For more information on current vaccination rates among different age groups in Minnesota click here.