Reading the news these days, it seems the word “vaccine” automatically refers to the COVID-19 vaccine, no matter the context. But it’s important not to forget about research coming out about other vaccines as well. That’s especially true since multiple studies have found that childhood immunization rates have fallen during the pandemic.
One of the most recent studies that deserves some coverage is a research letter published April 27 in JAMA that found in national data that only 16% of men aged 18-21 had ever received at least one dose of the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine. The HPV vaccine has long struggled to gain a foothold among U.S. youth, but 16% falls well short of the 42% of women in the same age range who had received at least one dose.
Given how effective the HPV vaccine is at preventing multiple types of cancer and how much HPV-related oral cancer rates have been rising among men, these exceptionally low rates would undoubtedly raise concern among health care professionals, just as the falling childhood vaccination rates overall have.
Just the fact that childhood immunization rates have dropped in general during the pandemic is a story worth following: Was it only because of the lockdowns? Will the rates increase? Are doctors seeing even more hesitancy? Is it fear of coming into the office? What does this mean for COVID-19 vaccination when vaccines are available for kids?
Here are just a handful of recent studies looking at the lower rates of childhood vaccinations during 2020:
- Decline in Child Vaccination Coverage During the COVID-19 Pandemic — Michigan Care Improvement Registry, May 2016–May 2020
- Effects of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Routine Pediatric Vaccine Ordering and Administration — United States, 2020
- Potential impact of COVID-19 pandemic on vaccination coverage in children: A case study of measles-containing vaccine administration in the United States (US)
- The Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Immunization Campaigns and Programs: A Systematic Review
The HPV vaccination story is just one of many, but these are easy to miss in the nonstop flow of news related to COVID-19 vaccines. And since most of these vaccines are given to kids and teens, who are far less likely to die from COVID-19, it’s particularly important to know whether these falling rates are setting us up for a series of other epidemics.