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Health officials says childhood vaccinations down since start of pandemic

FILE: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

SALT LAKE CITY — The low number of vaccinations has health officials all over the Wasatch Front concerned, and they’re not just talking about the COVID-19 vaccine.  Childhood vaccinations also took a huge drop last year, and they don’t know when they’ll get back to normal.  

Measles, mumps, chicken pox… over the course of 2020, clinics and doctor’s offices ordered 13% fewer child vaccinations through the state’s vaccines for children program.  

Read more: Fewer Utah kids receive routine vaccinations during pandemic, doctors say

Utah Department of Health Immunization Director Rich Lakin said the beginning of the pandemic was the worst for orders of childhood vaccinations. 

“The months of April through June of 2020 had the largest decreases in orders,” Lakin said. 

Childhood vaccinations rebounded in late 2020, but still down

Lakin says those numbers started to rebound toward the end of the year. However, it’s too early to know how 2021 is shaping up.  Still, he says it appears vaccinations continue to lag. 

“I doubt that there’s going to be huge rebounds in 2021,” he said.

Lakin believes things might normalize by the end of 2021 to what they were before the pandemic. But even if they do, there’s another problem.  A lot of parents who skipped out on childhood vaccinations last year may still lag behind.

“We’re hoping that all parents will start reaching out to their child’s physicians and find out if their child is overdue for any vaccinations and that they can get caught up at some point,” Lakin said.

Flu shots also down in 2020

Health officials also say fewer people received their flu shots in 2020. If that happens again, they warn it could lead to big problems.

Salt Lake County Health Department Division Director of Family Health Audrey Stevenson worries about the 2021 flu season. 

“We don’t want to see a situation where we have outbreaks of both influenza and COVID, with people who are very, very sick with both diseases,” she said.

She says we had a very mild flu season last year, but that’s because we were doing things to limit the spread of viruses, which we aren’t doing as much now.

“We were really implementing social distancing, we were really staying away from crowded venues, we were wearing masks,” Stevenson said.

She also says many people worried about receiving a flu shot and a COVID-19 booster shot at the same time, wondering if the two vaccines would interact or cause problems.  However, Stevenson says the CDC data shows that’s not the case.

Related: The first day of fall means the return of flu season, Utah doctor warns

“I know that a lot of people are saying, ‘Is it safe for me to go ahead and get my COVID booster and still get my flu shot?’ And, absolutely it’s OK,” she said. 

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