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Health Officials Encourage Child Immunizations As Numbers Decline During COVID-19

Iowa requires all children attending school or licensed childcare centers to be vaccinated unless parents request medical or religious exemptions.

As children prepare to go back to school this month, state health officials are reminding parents to make sure they have their state-required vaccinations.

According to the state health department, the number of non-influenza vaccinations for children under 18 dropped by nearly 40 percent in March and April when compared to the same months in 2019.

The number of children receiving vaccinations increased slightly in May, according to Jessica Schultz, a child vaccination specialist with the state health department. But she said IDPH is still concerned this trend could continue through the summer, leaving children at greater risk as they return to school.

"Declines in vaccination practices leave children and communities vulnerable to the spread of vaccine preventable diseases such as measles, and that risk can obviously go up when social distancing measures are relaxed," Schultz said.

She said the department is currently working to analyze numbers from June and has no plans to suspend immunization requirements because of the current public health crisis.

Schultz said the vaccination rate may have decreased dramatically during the first few months of the COVID-19 pandemic as parents may not have been able or willing to bring their children to routine check-ups.

In late March, Gov. Kim Reynolds suspended all non-essential medical and dental procedures as confirmed COVID-19 cases started to increase in the state and personal protective gear for medical personnel was limited. The order was lifted in late April.

Schultz said IDPH is encouraging providers to reach out to families who may have missed or canceled appointments to reschedule and emphasize the importance of immunizations.

"And also just explain to [parents] what procedures and protocols have been put into place," she said. "So whether that's scheduling sick visits, and well child visits during different times of the day, or asking patients to remain outside in their vehicle or in another location until they're called into the facility just to reduce crowding in the waiting rooms."

Under Iowa law, certain immunizations are required for children entering schools or licensed childcare facilities. Parents can request exemptions for medical or religious reasons.

Parents can also obtain a "provisional certificate" for their children if they've received at least one dose of each require vaccine.