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This New Year, Talk to Your Patients About Vaccination

Health, science, and politics are in the mix as studies examine links among debates over shots against COVID-19 and measles.

Public discourse over the safety, effectiveness, and need for COVID-19 vaccination appears to have affected attitudes about measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccinations for children.

The findings were part of the latest KFF COVID-19 Vaccine Monitor report for December 2022, published on Dec. 16.

The latest survey found 71% of adults said healthy children should be required to get vaccinated for measles, mumps, and rubella to attend public schools. That’s down from 82% of adults who said the same in a Pew Research Center Poll of October 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Now, 28% of respondents said parents should be able to decide not to vaccinate school-aged children, even if that creates health risks for others. That figure was up from 16% in 2019, and among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents, that figure has increased from 20% to 55% in the last three years, according to KFF.

“While confidence in the benefits of childhood MMR vaccines remains high, the debate over COVID-19 vaccine mandates may have had some spillover effects on attitudes towards requiring MMR vaccines for children attending public school,” the KFF report said.

Measles threat grows

The KFF findings could translate to real-world effects when adults or children get vaccinated against diseases, or don’t.

Currently, all states and Washington, D.C., require MMR vaccines for children to attend public school, according to KFF. For children, the CDC recommends a first dose of measles vaccine at age 12 to 15 months, then a second dose at age 4 to 6. One dose is 93% effective and two are 97% effective, at preventing infection.

A JAMA Network analysis reported that in late November, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offered good news: “During 2000-2021, measles vaccination prevented an estimated 56 million deaths worldwide,” the CDC report said. In that time, estimated annual measles cases dropped, and deaths decreased from 761,000 to 128,000.

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But CDC also had bad news: “Progress toward measles elimination experienced setbacks in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

“In 2021, only 81% of children received their first dose of measles containing vaccine (MCV), the lowest coverage reported since 2008, leaving 25 million children vulnerable to measles” across the globe, the CDC report said. Worldwide, surveillance of the disease is suboptimal and large outbreaks were reported in 22 countries, according to CDC.

The public health response to COVID-19 is at least partly to blame, according to JAMA Network and CDC. As of December last year, 25 measles vaccination campaigns postponed due to the pandemic, were completed, but 18 were not, resulting in an estimated 61 million delayed or missed measles shots.

But that’s not the only cause, CDC Director Rochelle P. Walensky, MD, MPH, said in an interview with NBC News.

“As I think about the challenges that we have to public health vaccine, misinformation is among the biggest threats," she said in that interview.

New cases are showing up in the United States. The JAMA Network report said as of Dec. 16, there were 77 known cases of measles reported around Columbus, Ohio, and those followed 22 cases in Minnesota earlier this year.

More results

The KFF report touched on parental concerns about COVID-19, seasonal flu, and the current spread of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), which can lead to serious conditions in infants and older adults.

  • 56% of parents said they were worried their child will get seriously sick from RSV. That figure was 73% for parents with children aged 5 years or younger.
  • 36% of adults said they are very or somewhat worried they will get seriously sick from COVID-19. Figures were higher for Black respondents (49%) and Hispanic respondents (60%) than White respondents (26%).
  • 49% said they are very or somewhat worried there will be an increase in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in the United States this winter. More than half of adults aged 65 years and older have not yet gotten an updated COVID-19 booster, while 36% of vaccinated adults aged 65 years and older said they don’t think they need it.

This article originally appeared in Medical Economics.


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