RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — With nearly 58% of Virginia’s population with at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, local health districts have begun shifting some of their focus to the troubling decline in childhood immunization rates for routine vaccinations.
Vaccinations for children plummeted during the first months of the coronavirus pandemic, with restrictions and other concerns pushing families to opt against routine shots. Even though doses for children have increased since, the uptick “was not sufficient to achieve catch-up coverage,” a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found.
In Virginia, immunization rates for public school students went from 96% in the fall of 2019 down to 88% the following year.
“Covid 19 vaccines aren’t the only vaccines we need to be thinking about right now,” said Cat Long with the Richmond and Henrico Health Districts.
Figures that stand out locally are in Richmond and Chesterfield county. According to data from the state’s health department, 99% of Richmond Public Schools 7th grade students had the proper vaccinations at the start of the 2019 school year. The figure dropped to 72% at the beginning of the 2020 school year, which is more than a 25 percent difference. In Chesterfield, 7th grade students had a 93 percent immunization rate in 2019. In 2020, that number reduced to 72 percent, roughly a 20 percent difference.
“The CDC reports that there’s also been about a 14 percent drop in vaccine ordering, you know in the public sector that further exemplifies this drop,” said nurse LaWanda Dunn.
The dip in immunizations for children has alarmed health officials and pediatricians across the country about possible outbreaks of preventable diseases, such as measles and mumps.
“In areas of low vaccination, we have seen a resurgence of these types of diseases that were pretty much eradicated,” LaWanda Dunn, a public health nursing supervisor at the Richmond City Health District, said in a weekly virtual briefing hosted by the district.
Dunn explained that getting caught up on vaccinations will help children avoid catching a preventable disease. She suggested that parents, especially those with rising kindergarteners and seventh graders, to check in with school nurses and their pediatricians to see if their child has the adequate shots for school entry and to not wait until the school year to do so.
Effective July 1, there are new vaccine requirements for kids going into kindergarten and 7th grade. The experts encourage parents get educated on what’s changed.
The Richmond and Henrico health districts have immunization appointments available Monday through Thursday for those children who need vaccines for diseases besides COVID-19. Dunn said to book an appointment, those seeking to go to the Richmond City Health District can call (804) 482-5501 and people planning on going to either Henrico Health Department clinic, east or west, can call (804) 501-4651.
Some students also need physicals before starting the school year. RHHD has three days of new student physicals this summer. There’s one at the Cary street location on July 20, one at the Henrico west location on august 25, and one at the Henrico east location on September 10.
Stay with 8News for a full report at 5 p.m.