Within seconds, the vaccine was administered, the jab site sterilized and a bandage cleverly placed over the wound.
Madison and Tyler West had taken their 8-week-old daughter, Ruby, to Pediatric Associates in Greenwood for her regularly scheduled checkup. As part of that visit, it was time for Ruby to receive a round of vaccinations. Even as the little baby complained about needle sticks, West knew it was too important to put off.
“I really just want her to be protected in every possible way,” said Madison West, a south Indianapolis resident. “Our family, we get together often and travel a lot, we go to carnivals, to rallies, to all those places. And all those places have germs, she’s exposed to a lot of things. If he’s available and can help in some way, I want to make sure he has it. “
Despite this importance, fewer children in Johnson County and Indiana have received recommended vaccinations against diseases such as diphtheria, tetanus, polio and measles over the past three years.
Vaccination rates have declined in the county every year since 2019 as the COVID-19 pandemic devastated regular visits to pediatricians and disrupted established disease protection programs.
Local doctors and health officials are working to reverse this trend by partnering with parents through education and bringing back children who are left behind.
“Many pediatricians didn’t see them for their regular checkups for a period of time during COVID,” said Dr. Mary Hodson, a pediatrician at Pediatric Associates of Greenwood and a Ruby physician. “It was several months before we were allowed to start seeing those guys in our office again. People have gotten out of the routine of coming in for a checkup every year. “
Between the ages of 19 and 35 months, it is recommended that infants receive a series of vaccinations known as “4: 3: 1: 3: 3: 1: 4”. The number series refers to the doses of important vaccines against deadly diseases, as proposed by the Advisory Committee for Immunization Practices, a part of the Centers for Disease Control composed of medical and public health experts who make recommendations on how to use the vaccines.
Vaccines included in this recommendation include those that protect against diphtheria-tetanus-acellular pertussis, polio, measles-mumps-rubella, Haemophilus influenza B, hepatitis B, chicken pox and pneumococcus.
“We start immunizing children at a young age because that’s when they are most vulnerable to all of these preventable diseases,” Hodson said. “When their bodies are vulnerable and they don’t have strong immune systems, ways to fight things, if we vaccinate, we can help them fight things if they have exposure.”
The Indiana Department of Health tracks the completion of such vaccinations through its statewide immunization registry.
Since 2020, Indiana’s completion rate for such vaccinations has dropped from 70% to 61% in 2021 to 58% this year. In Johnson County over the same time frame, the completion rate jumped from 76 percent to 67 percent to 59 percent, health department data shows.
“Obviously, a huge reason behind this is COVID. This is definitely the priority, as people stayed at home and once people were able to be out in the community, we saw a decline in regularly scheduled vaccinations, “said Lisa Brown, director of nursing for the health department. Johnson County. “People were a little afraid not only to come here, but also to the doctors’ offices.”
The problem is not a local or Indiana problem, but rather a global concern. According to the World Health Organization and UNICEF, with the COVID-19 pandemic causing the largest sustained decline in childhood vaccinations in about 30 years.
“While a pandemic hangover was expected last year due to the outages and freezes of COVID-19, what we are seeing now is a continuing decline. COVID-19 is no excuse. We need vaccination recovery for the millions missing or we will inevitably see more outbreaks, more sick children and more pressure on already strained health systems, “UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell said in a report released in July. 2022.
The Johnson County Health Department offers all vaccines recommended by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices. They saw the decline in childhood vaccination rates and worked to correct that trajectory, Brown said.
“One thing we are doing is using the vaccination database registry used by the state and we are able to run reports, so the patients who have been in our health department before, we can contact them if we see that they are behind the vaccinations” , he said.
In Hodson’s office, staff have always followed the American Pediatric Association’s recommendations to make sure their patients are up to date on vaccinations, paying close attention to medical records, and discussing vaccines with parents during well visits if their children are late. .
During the pandemic, that emphasis became greater, Hodson said.
“In 2020, when the practices were closing their doors and he saw no one enter, we continued to see all our children under 2 for their visits to the wells, because we felt it was so important that we involved them to obtain those routine vaccinations, ”he said. “So we kept seeing those patients, even during the worst of COVID.”
As such, Hodson’s staff did not see a significant drop in those patients 2 years of age or younger missing or late with those vaccinations. But where she has seen a decrease is with vaccines for children ages 5, 11 and 16, all ages where vaccines are recommended for various diseases.
Re-establishing those routine visits to the doctor helped the children catch up with vaccinations.
“Fortunately, the schools are at the top, telling people they need to come in and get these vaccines. So this is helping to get them back in again. But we’re finding that some of these guys are a little behind, ”Hodson said.
However, being behind can be easily corrected.
”Talk to your pediatrician, contact us here at the health department, because we are able to look and see their records to see if they are up to date. And if they’re not, we can usually schedule them in about a week, ”Brown said.
GIVE THE NUMBERS
Vaccination completion rates for children 19 to 35 months
Johnson County: 59%
Johnson County: 67%
Johnson County: 76%
Johnson County: 76%
Johnson County: 74%
Johnson County: 65%
– Information from the Indiana Department of Health