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During the pandemic, the number of childhood vaccinations in Illinois has decreased

In Illinois, routine childhood vaccinations against diseases such as measles, polio and whooping cough have declined during the pandemic, a drop that comes amid a resurgence of polio on the East Coast and that pediatricians blame on missed appointments and increased vaccine hesitancy.

About 89% of Illinois kindergartners were vaccinated against measles, mumps, polio, rubella, chickenpox, diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis during the 2020-2021 school year, according to data from the Illinois Office of Education obtained by the Tribune through a Freedom of Information Act requested. That’s down from about 94% to 96% in each of the previous four academic years.

In the 2020-2021 school year, vaccine data was provided for 124,701 Illinois kindergarten students, meaning that if 89% were vaccinated, it is possible that nearly 14,000 were not vaccinated.

“It’s very concerning,” said Dr. Kathy Shepherd, a pediatrician at Kids First Pediatric Partners in Skokie. “As pediatricians, we’ve all seen children with vaccine-preventable diseases. Sometimes I think people have a false sense of security with their children’s health if they don’t think it could happen to them.’

Illinois Board of Education spokeswoman Jackie Matthews also called the drop “very troubling,” saying in an email, “Routine childhood vaccinations protect students from preventable diseases that can lead to serious complications and even death.”

The slide is part of a national and global trend amid the pandemic. In the 2020-2021 academic year, the percentage of kindergarten students across the country who switched to the regime children’s vaccinations refused by about 1 percentage point, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In 2021, 25 million children worldwide missed one or more doses of the vaccine that protects against diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough, marking the largest sustained decline in childhood immunization rates in a generation, according to the World Health Organization and UNICEF.

Pediatric leaders warn that the consequences can be dire.

“We don’t want to see major pediatric outbreaks across the country, especially in light of these capacity issues,” said Dr. Frank Belmonte, chief medical officer at Advocate Children’s Hospital, citing outbreaks of children with respiratory diseases filling children’s hospitals, which also often struggle with staff shortages. “If we can prevent things, we should prevent them, not deal with them after the fact.”

Bucktown parent Ann Judge knew she wanted to vaccinate her 1-year-old son, James, during his recent checkup.

He cried when he received five jabs in his thighs, one after the other, for hepatitis A; influenza; vaccination against measles, mumps and rubella; pneumococcal vaccine; and a vaccine to protect against chicken pox. But the judge thought it was worth it.

A couple of months earlier, James was rushed to the hospital after suffering a febrile seizure, which is when a child has convulsions due to a fever. He ended up being fine, but the experience strengthened Judge’s desire to vaccinate her son if possible.

“You go through something like that as a parent and you’re like, ‘OK, I’m going to do everything I can to never go back to that hospital again,'” she said. “If that involves a vaccination and 30 seconds of my child being uncomfortable, so be it.”

She worries about parents who make different decisions.

“Not only am I putting your child at risk, but I’m putting my child at risk,” she said.

Many people might think that diseases like polio, measles and whooping cough are a thing of the past. But this summer, an unvaccinated man in Rockland County, New York, developed paralytic polio, and poliovirus was found in sewage there and in other New York counties.

“The generation that remembers polio is much older now. Without that experience, it can be hard to appreciate what these viruses can do,” said Carol Pandak, director of PolioPlus at Evanston-based Rotary International, which works to eradicate polio worldwide.

Measles also appears sporadically in the Chicago area because some parents have resisted vaccinating their children against it. In 2019, there were nine reported cases of measles in Illinois. including in Cook County. Measles can lead to complications including pneumonia and brain swelling. It can be transmitted through the air when a person coughs or sneezes, or by contact with the mucus or saliva of an infected person.

Some vaccine-preventable diseases are much more common and cause death every year, even in the United States

About half of children who contract whooping cough must be hospitalized, and up to 20 children a year in the United States die from the disease. Children should receive doses of the pertussis vaccine at 2 months, 4 months, 6 months, 15-18 months, and 4 to 6 years of age, followed by another pertussis immunization at 11-12 years of age. age

With his mother, Ann, James Judge, 1, receives his 12-month vaccine package from nurse Megan Elwes in the pediatric primary care unit at Lurie City and Countryside Pediatrics on Oct. 18, 2022, in Chicago.

At least 200 children in the US died from the flu during the 2019-2020 flu season. Babies can start getting flu shots when they are 6 months old.

“We’ve lost patients to vaccine-preventable diseases,” Shepherd said. “When you have a loss like that, you really take it seriously.”

Pediatricians say the decline in recent vaccinations may have been due to families missing appointments in the early months of COVID-19. Many parents were afraid or unable to bring their healthy children to doctors for non-urgent matters, such as annual check-ups, during which routine vaccinations are usually given.

Vaccine rates may look better in later years as children catch up on their vaccines.

It is also possible that some families are now avoiding routine childhood immunizations due to increased hesitancy about the vaccine. Even with the COVID-19 vaccine, some parents were wary of vaccinations.

When the COVID-19 vaccines were released, their safety, development, and effectiveness became a national topic of conversation and debate. This has encouraged many people to think deeply about vaccines for the first time, and it has alarmed some people.

“A lot of questions about the efficacy and safety of vaccines have been questioned and brought into the public eye, and that has created a lot more mistrust of vaccines in general,” said Dr. Panorea Mathews-Kukla, a pediatrician and chief of pediatrics at Duly. Health and care.

Before COVID-19, Matthews-Kukla usually signed one or two religious exemptions a year for parents who didn’t want to vaccinate their children.

Since the pandemic, Matthews-Kukla has received about one religious exemption request a month.

Illinois law requires students to be immunized against certain diseases, such as measles, whooping cough and chicken pox, or provide proof of an authorized exemption, such as for religious or medical reasons, by October 15 of each year or an earlier date determined by their school district . If they don’t, they don’t have to go to school until they meet the requirements.

When parents worry about vaccinating their children, Matthews-Kukla does her best to answer their questions. She tries to remember that parents try to do everything possible for their children.

“In my own practice, I see people who don’t want to get vaccinated,” Matthews-Kukla said. “I think it’s much more important to work with parents and take care of these kids than to deny them access to health care.”

Other pediatric practices take a different approach. Shepherd’s practice, Kids First Pediatric Partners in Skokie, does not work with families who refuse routine vaccinations.

“We think it’s dangerous,” Shepherd said. “We are a practice that is happy to talk to families about questions and concerns they may have about the vaccine, but if they ultimately decide they do not want to vaccinate their children, we will refer them to another pediatrician because we don’t think we’re a good fit for them.’

She said her practice has many patients with medical disabilities.

“I think our families like knowing that we’re vaccinating, that they won’t have to deal with other families who have unvaccinated children,” she said.

For many routine immunizations during the 2020-2021 school year, about 1.2% of kindergarten students in Illinois had religious exemptions; less than 1% had medical exemptions; and more than 4% were not vaccinated without a confirmed reason. About 4% did not meet vaccine or physical exam requirements but attended school remotely due to COVID-19 concerns. It is possible that some of these 4% were vaccinated but did not undergo the required medical examination.

Last school year, a similar percentage of kindergartners had religious and medical exemptions, but the percentage of children who were not vaccinated without a valid reason was about 3%, and there was no data tracking how many kindergartners did not comply, but moved away.

Doctors hope to see the numbers improve in the 2021-2022 school year, once that data is available.

Dr. Nina Alfieri said pediatricians and families are in a “catch-up period.” Many pediatric practices only allow parents to sign up for vaccinations if they have missed shots and don’t want to wait for their children’s next annual check-up to catch up.

“With most families back to school and most places exposed, most families are very vigilant about coming in for checkups and catching up on any vaccines they’ve missed,” said Alfieri, a pediatrician at Lurie Children’s.

Doctors say that children who have missed vaccinations should return for them as soon as possible. Vaccines are supposed to be administered on schedule, but “it’s better to be vaccinated” than not vaccinated at all, Matthews-Kukla said.

Elmhurst mother Heidi Rahn recently took her 1-year-old son for five vaccinations during his annual checkup. He cried during the pokes and Rahn gave him Tylenol after the intake for any lingering pain or discomfort.

But he slept well and played normally the next day.

“For us, vaccination has always been something that — both traditional and the COVID shot — it’s a very easy way for us to do our part and protect ourselves and keep our community safe,” she said.



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