MIAMI – The vaccination rates around the country are falling to alarming rates. This has epidemiologists in South Florida worried about outbreaks of preventable diseases. All as the healthcare system struggles to keep up with a surge in COVID-19 patients.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned in May that fewer childhood vaccines have been given during the coronavirus pandemic. The protection of community immunity, also known as herd immunity, is only possible when most of the population has been vaccinated.
“Right now the percent of people who are getting their vaccines on time — children getting their vaccines on time — has dropped,” said Dr. Aileen Marty, a Florida International University infectious disease expert, about Miami-Dade County. “We have vaccinated approximately 200 children in the past two months.”
Last year, Marty said there were 800. While vaccines are a requirement to be admitted in the classroom, Miami-Dade County Public Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho is also concerned that the new reality of distance learning will dissuade parents from protecting their children.
The last epidemic of rubella in the 1960s killed 2,000 babies. With the vaccine, pediatricians have only reported 15 cases since 2012, according to the CDC. Without the vaccines, thousands used to die every year of diseases like whooping cough, polio, and measles. The vaccines have nearly vanished them.
“Regular vaccinations are still important,” Carvalho said. “We do not need a measles outbreak on top of the COVID-19 crisis.”
Carolina Kaack is the Memorial Healthcare System nurse practitioner who runs the Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital Mobile Health Center, which provides free, pediatric healthcare services to uninsured children residing in the South Broward Hospital District.
“We don’t want to have also an outbreak of flu at the same time that we have COVID-19,” Kaack said.
Kaack has been part of an effort to encourage parents in Broward County to protect their children from preventable diseases.
“Both the CDC and American [Academy of] Pediatrics are encouraging parents to vaccinate children,” Kaack said. “At this moment, it’s more important than ever because we don’t want children getting sick from other diseases that can be prevented through vaccines.”
MIAMI-DADE COUNTY: For more information about free immunizations, visit The Children’s Trust page or call 786-845-0550.
BROWARD COUNTY: For more information about free immunizations, visit The Florida Department of Health in Broward County page or call 954-767-5111.
5 reasons why it’s important to vaccinate your child
1. Immunizations can save your child’s life.
2. Scientists have worked to make vaccination very safe and effective. The disease-prevention benefits of getting vaccines are much greater than the rare side effects for almost all children.
3. Immunization protects others you care about.
4. Immunizations can save your family time and money. Some vaccine-preventable diseases can result in prolonged disabilities.
5. Immunization protects future generations. Vaccines have eliminated diseases that killed or severely disabled people just a few generations ago.