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Vaccine rates slide during COVID-19 pandemic

Although nationwide rates are declining, Duluth hospitals haven't seen notable decreases.

Duluth hospitals haven't seen notable decreases in vaccine rates since the start of the pandemic, while nationwide rates have decreased according to a new CDC study. (Dreamstime/TNS)

Vaccine rates have decreased across the nation since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic — posing a problem for children who miss vaccines and the broader population.

But in Duluth, neither St. Luke's nor Essentia Health have seen major impacts to their vaccination rates. Doctors at both health systems still have concerns about how a decline in vaccinations may impact the community.

A new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study found notable decreases in vaccination rates, a trend that began one week after the national emergency declaration.

Dr. Malini DeSilva, study co-author and investigator at HealthPartners Institute, attributed the decline to stay-at-home orders.

Researchers looked at provider order data from the Vaccines for Children Program, which provides vaccines for around 50% of all U.S. children ages 0-18, as well as vaccine administration data from the CDC’s Vaccine Tracking System and Vaccine Safety Datalink, which is a partnership between the CDC and eight health care entities.


"We really are concerned about that because we have a pandemic going on right now and we don't want another epidemic of vaccine-preventable diseases," said Sherry Johnson, a St. Luke's nurse practitioner specializing in infectious diseases.

It's too early to tell if vaccine rates at St. Luke's will be affected. But, Johnson said, they have seen a lower number of vaccine orders.

"We can't tell exactly if we'll end up with a lower rate, but it looks like that's probably going to be the case," she said. She's expecting to see lower rates of measles-mumps-rubella vaccinations.

Missing vaccinations puts children at risk of contracting diseases and increases the chance of an outbreak in the community, she said.

"If anybody has any concerns, they should really consult their primary care physician or their pediatrician about how to stay up-to-date or how to catch up and if they've gotten a little bit behind," she said.

Even though vaccination rates at Essentia Health are higher than normal, Stephanie Nixon, program manager of antimicrobial stewardship at Essentia, said the CDC's study is a cause for concern.

"We can't just snap our fingers and fix this problem that we currently find ourselves in," she said. "But for those highly contagious diseases that we do have vaccines for, we want to make sure that people are aware of the importance of vaccinating to prevent those from impacting our communities."

Pre-pandemic, Essentia's vaccine completion rate was around 60%. It saw a slight decrease after the pandemic started in March. Now, vaccine rates are the highest they've been since July 2019 at 63% completion, said Roseann Hines, senior operations manager for medication use management.


"I think sometimes you have that initial scare where everybody's staying in, but then I think this might also be that kind of motivator for people to look at their vaccinations and say, 'Are there other communicable diseases that I can prevent?'" she said.

Nixon said people delay vaccinations for myriad reasons — including difficulties with parents seeing their child in pain and not understanding why a child needs numerous vaccines — but there's no pandemic-related reason that should cause delays in vaccinations.

Essentia has set up three immunization clinics in Duluth, which are meant to minimize wait times and contact points.

"So parents or people that need vaccines can go in and out by appointment quite quickly," Haines said.

Study co-author DeSilva said she hopes nationwide vaccine rates increase when the pandemic eventually subsides. Children can receive vaccines at a later time and they will still be effective, she said.

"This is just a reminder that it's really important to get your children in for these essential vaccines," DeSilva said.

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