Why have routine childhood vaccination rates been decreasing in the U.S.?

Infectious Diseases Vaccines

A: We don’t know for sure, but it’s probably due to decreased trust in vaccines as well as public health institutions during the pandemic and pandemic disruptions to routine healthcare.

At the end of 2022, an outbreak of measles erupted in Ohio, with over 80 cases. Most who contracted measles were either completely unvaccinated or only partially vaccinated. Since March 2020, rates of routine childhood vaccines have been falling in the U.S. and around the world, so this was not surprising.

It’s estimated that roughly 25 million children worldwide have missed doses of life-saving vaccines since 2020. Experts expected that the rates would recover in 2021 and 2022, but they did not. This leaves tens of thousands of children unprotected from serious childhood illnesses in the U.S.

No one is 100% sure what’s causing this continued drop in vaccination rates. At the beginning of the pandemic, shutdowns and problems accessing healthcare definitely had something to do with it. But now, 3 years into the pandemic, there’s no reason why those initial shutdowns should still be causing such a large drop.

Many people think that vaccine hesitancy fueled by heated political debates around the COVID-19 vaccines may have “spilled over” into people’s beliefs around other vaccines. And distrust in public health institutions, which grew during the pandemic, might have people questioning one of its strongest tools: vaccinations.

While we don’t know for sure what the ultimate impact of COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy will be on uptake of other vaccines, the situation in Ohio shows us why it’s so important to keep telling people to get vaccinated and keep building confidence in the power of vaccines. People’s health attitudes and behaviors are interconnected and we should never just stand by when people have doubts about life-saving health interventions.

If you want to learn more about how to talk to someone who’s hesitant about vaccines, check out this earlier post!

In the meantime, be well and stay safe (and get vaccinated!).

Those Nerdy Girls

Further Reading:

Association of American Medical Colleges discussion of distrust and childhood vaccines

American Academy of Pediatrics statement on decreasing vaccination rates

New York Times coverage of dropping vaccination rates

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