Children in Nebraska are missing critical vaccinations during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, raising the risk of preventable disease outbreaks, according to data from Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska (BCBSNE).

BCBSNE compared childhood immunization rates for members from January through September 2019 with the rates from January through September 2020, and found vaccinations decreased as follows:

  • 10.6% decrease for MMR, protecting against measles, mumps and rubella
  • 4.15% decrease for DTaP, protecting against diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough
  • 2.43% decrease for polio, protecting against poliomyelitis

These findings align with a recently published Blue Cross Blue Shield Association Health of America study that estimates children across the U.S. will miss 9 million doses of these critical vaccinations by the end of 2020. The study, which also compared data from January through September of 2019 to 2020, indicates that vaccinations were down 26% for MMR, 26% for DTaP and 16% for polio nationwide.

While BCBSNE members’ vaccination rates are better than those found in the national study, the decline is still concerning. The fewer people vaccinated, the greater the risk of a community losing herd immunity, which occurs when a large portion of a population is immune to a contagious disease, making it difficult for the disease to spread.

“In order to protect those who cannot get immunized because they’re immunosuppressed or undergoing cancer therapy, for example, we want to make sure a majority of our population is immune, so we can prevent that infection from taking hold and spreading rapidly,” Dr. Debra Esser, BCBSNE’s chief medical officer, said.

Dr. Jane Carnazzo, Children’s Physicians pediatrician, has experience treating children with diseases (like meningitis), which are now preventable with vaccinations.

“Anyone who has practiced as long as I have will tell you how scary it is,” Carnazzo said. “Today I so rarely see that because of those very valuable vaccines that children get now in infancy.”

In the national BCBSA study, 40% of parents reported the pandemic as the reason their child missed vaccinations. Dr. Carnazzo explained that this shouldn’t deter families from well-child visits, pointing out that family clinics have safety measures in place, including completing temperature checks and requiring masks, to protect the health of staff and patients.

BCBSNE and pediatric care providers encourage families to take their children to wellness visits and catch up on missed vaccinations.

“People shouldn’t be afraid to get caught up; it’s an easy thing to do,” Carnazzo said. “It’s very safe to combine vaccines in childhood, and we have a very clear schedule for doing that. The important thing is that people get their kids immunized to prevent the diseases we know we can prevent, and that includes influenza.”