Childhood vaccinations down nationwide, including La Crosse County

LA CROSSE (WKBT) — About 25 million children nationwide, including many in La Crosse County, are missing life-saving vaccines — the largest number ever, according to the World Health Organization.

The decline is raising the specter that preventable infectious diseases will return, health experts say.

For the past two years, people everywhere have been discussing the COVID-19 vaccine. Health experts say it’s also time to start talking about childhood vaccines as well.

“Diseases, especially infectious diseases afar will make their way here,” said Dr. Raj Naik, a vaccine expert at Gundersen Health System.

Since the start of the pandemic, childhood vaccination rates have declining.

“Children not going to see the doctor, they weren’t getting vaccinated so of course we’re going to see that dip in vaccinations,” said Apple Speropulos, the team lead for immunization at the La Crosse County Health Department.

Trust regarding vaccines also has decreased.

“Some hesitancy with COVID vaccines which has carried over into now increased concerns or hesitancy with other routine vaccinations,” said Naik.

Children are recommended to have 10 vaccines, including vaccines for the measles, mumps, chickenpox, polio, and influenza. In 2018, Gundersen’s level for the 10 vaccine combinations was 67%. Prior to the pandemic, those rates went up to 71%.

“We started at an already high level and we were able to boost those levels significantly,” said Naik.

The 10 vaccine combinations have decreased back to 2018 levels.

“We have retreated in all those gains that we made,” Naik said.

When it comes to just influenza vaccines, La Crosse County’s vaccine rates are declining faster than the national average.

“We are at 43% and nationwide it is about 51%, 52% percent. So we’re a good 10% lower than the national average,” said Benita Lin, a third-year family medicine resident at Mayo Clinic Health System La Crosse.

“So we’ve already had, you know, periodic outbreaks of things like measles and mumps,” said Naik.

To repair the distrust surrounding vaccines, Naik believes health-care providers should have discussions with their patients about the benefits of vaccines.

“It would be a mistake to bury our heads in the sand and just hope that it repairs itself as the pandemic starts to evolve into less of a problem or less of a concern,” he said.

Lin says vaccines protect more than just one person.

“These are very spreadable diseases and if you take your vaccines and are immunized, you’re protecting both yourself and your community,” she said.

The La Crosse County Health Department says its goal is to get those vaccination numbers to pre-pandemic levels. To find further information about vaccine drives, click here.

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