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Drop in childhood vaccination rates concerns SC doctors as school year starts

Published: Aug. 17, 2020 at 7:12 PM EDT
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LEXINGTON COUNTY, S.C. (WIS) - Dr. Lauren Matthews at Lexington Pediatric Practice in West Columbia said they have seen a drop in vaccination rates among school-aged children so far this year.

She said the COVID-19 pandemic has played a big role in that.

Dr. Matthews said, “Families were worried about their safety. We noticed a decrease in well-child visits. That’s typically when children receive their vaccines.”

She isn’t alone. According to data from the CDC, fewer childhood vaccines were given nationwide from January to April compared to that same time in 2019.

Dr. Matthews said, "Our concern is that as these children enter the community they are going to be at risk for measles and whooping cough. We saw outbreaks of those across the country as recent as 2019."

She said a measles outbreak, paired with the COVID-19 pandemic, and flu could overwhelm the healthcare system.

Doctors and the SCDHEC- the state health department - are urging families to make sure their children are up to date on their shots as many head back to school.

The South Carolina Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics said their members reported a significant drop in vaccinations for children in the state so far this year. About two-thirds of the members they surveyed reported a decline. They said their members are doing everything they can to bring parents peace of mind as they take their children to see their pediatricians.

President Dr. Robert Saul said, "Some are being innovative and administering vaccines in the parking lot, making sure you're processed quickly."

Infectious disease experts said they are also keeping a close eye on the number of students in schools who are getting exemptions for vaccines.

In South Carolina, students are required to be up to date on their vaccines to attend school. However, medical and religious exemptions can be granted for families who do not wish to vaccinate their children.

Drop in childhood vaccination rates concerns SC doctors as school year starts
Drop in childhood vaccination rates concerns SC doctors as school year starts(Jason Raven)

According to DHEC, for the 2019-20 school year, a little more than 12,000 students in South Carolina were granted religious exemptions.

Scroll below for a breakdown by county.

Dr. Rebecca Widener is a Pediatrics Infectious Disease Physician with Prisma Children's Hospital. She said they have also noticed a decline in the number of vaccines they've administered so far this year.

She said that with the number of vaccine exemptions granted to families growing every year they are paying close attention to that. "It does concern us because these vaccines have proven time and time again to be safe and effective. It's something that can help us prevent these infections."

We reached out to various anti-vaccine groups for comment. We have not heard back.

Doctors highly recommend making sure you and your child get a flu vaccine this flu season.

For a full list of required immunizations for the 2020-21 school year click here.

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