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December 07, 2020

DES MOINES, IA – This year more than 20 percent of Iowa children are missing routine vaccinations that protect against highly contagious and preventable diseases including measles, whooping cough and polio according to new data from Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield. The trend in Iowa is similar to nationwide data from the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association (BCBSA) that shows children are on track to miss an estimated 9 million vaccination doses in 2020, a decline of as much as 26 percent over 2019.

The findings come from Wellmark and BCBSA member claims data, which examined vaccination doses delivered from January to September 2020, compared to the same period in 2019. Among children up to age 10, the data shows:

Vaccination Iowa decrease from 2019 BCBS decrease from 2019
(Measles, mumps, rubella)
-21.2% -26%
(Diphtheria, tetanus, and whooping cough)
-23.9% -26%
Polio -23.7% -16%

"The need to protect against vaccine-preventable diseases is even more important during a pandemic," said Dr. Tim Gutshall, Wellmark's chief medical officer. "Regular visits with your child's doctor are important not only for vaccines. They also ensure children are meeting vital health milestones and receiving appropriate screenings for physical and emotional health."

According to the BCBSA data, 40 percent of parents and legal guardians say their children missed vaccinations due to the pandemic. Most vaccination postponements occurred during two key time periods. The first was in March through May, when the pandemic was first taking hold. Then, in August, the typical spike in back-to-school vaccinations was delayed with the shift to virtual schooling options in districts across the country.

Local and global public health officials already are warning of a sharp increase in the number of new measles infections and deaths. Earlier this year, the Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH) released a report noting the steep decline in vaccinations early in the pandemic. According to the IDPH, the number of vaccines administered during March and April 2020 dropped about 40 percent compared to the same months in 2019.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention and the World Health Organization says that urgent action is needed to avert major measles and polio epidemics. The BCBSA vaccine data provides clear evidence that the United States is at risk of widespread outbreaks of preventable diseases. If current trends continue, the U.S. will fall dangerously below the vaccination levels for measles and whooping cough that the CDC says are needed to protect community health.

"It is important for parents and caregivers to understand that vaccines can be delivered safely even during the pandemic," said Gutshall. "Iowa health care providers are taking precautions to ensure they can safely continue this essential care. I encourage parents to continue taking their children in for well-child visits and catch up on missed or delayed vaccinations."