Op-ed: Decrease in childhood vaccinations could present another serious public health crisis

Rebecca Hendricks is the president and founder of the Tacoma-based End-FLUenza Project. In this op-ed, Hendricks describes the impact of COVID-related policies on childhood vaccination rates and long-term health.



Earlier this summer, Governor Inslee extended the pause on the state’s phased reopening plan. For many, the announcement came as a punch in the gut. Just as we thought we might be returning to “normal,” all signs point otherwise.

Personally, I’m prepared to comply with additional “stay-at-home” orders. What worries me, however, are the unintended consequences these policies might have on the health of Washingtonian children in the long-run.

As the founder of the Tacoma-based End-FLUenza Project, I fight every day to increase flu vaccination rates among children. The fact is, approximately 100 children die yearly from influenza. Although small compared to the entire U.S. population, the number is not insignificant to me. My daughter, Scarlett Ann Taylor, died unexpectedly from the flu in 2014.

Like everybody else, I’ve watched in horror how COVID-19 has impacted the world as we know it. To date, there have been ~77k confirmed cases in Washington state – with nearly 180 deaths in Pierce County. Unfortunately, those numbers will continue to rise.

What doesn’t get as talked about today are the impacts that our attempts to curb the spread of COVID-19 is having on our long-term health; namely how “shelter in place” policies are impacting the otherwise routine measures we take to prevent the spread of diseases.

According to World Health Organization (WHO), lockdown measures hindered the delivery of immunizations – putting approximately 80 million children at increased risk. Additionally, a CDC report found a drop in routine childhood vaccinations the week after the national emergency declaration was announced.

In a recent national poll, 16% of parents said their children haven’t received recommended vaccinations because of COVID-19 – citing a reluctance of visiting hospitals fearing they would become infected. While these concerns are understandable, experts agree a continued drop in vaccinations could present another public health crisis.

To be clear, stay-at-home policies are important to curb the spread of COVID-19. As we navigate these precautions, however, it’s imperative parent’s prioritize vaccinations – and that stakeholders ensure measures are in place to ensure safe access.

Thankfully, there are signs of this happening.

Across the country, pediatricians are working to make their offices safe by doing frequent deep cleans, scheduling visits at different times of the day, and hosting vaccination-only days at their offices.

Additionally, Washington state is requiring that students attending online school will still need to be in compliance with immunization requirements. They also created resources for communicating the rules and importance of vaccinations.

Parents are also getting the picture. In June, vaccinations were up 50k doses from a low in April in Washington. However, the state department of health states that immunizations levels are “still not where we would like it to be.”

Nobody knows how the COVID-19 will play out over the next year. What we can count on is that a whole range of other infectious diseases will rear their ugly head sooner rather than later. If we don’t take the precautions necessary to protect our children, we could find ourselves in another unimaginable situation.