Why Experts Say Routine Vaccines Are Still Important During COVID-19

At the start of the pandemic in 2020, Americans were hesitant to seek medical care. A 2021 study published in JAMA Network examined over 1,000 patients in 2020 between March and July and found that over 40% of people had abstained from medical care during that time, including routine doctor visits, preventative screenings, and mental health appointments, citing fear of COVID-19 infection as their top reason for doing so.

A recent analysis conducted by healthcare consulting firm Avalere concluded a similar downward trend with routine vaccinations. When comparing the first half of 2021 to 2019, adolescents and adults missed roughly 11.1 million routine vaccinations. Additionally, between January 2020 to July 2021, the number of routine vaccine claims per month declined 32% for adults and 36% for adolescents.

Examples of routine vaccinations include those for the prevention of influenza, tetanus, shingles, chickenpox, HPV, measles, mumps, and rubella, to name a few (via Avalere). Experts explain what a decrease in vaccination numbers may mean for the general public.

Routine vaccinations remain essential for safety

According to Dr. Carissa F. Etienne, Health Organization Director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), "Countries are seeing outbreaks of diseases that for years had been under control." Unfortunately, millions of children worldwide aren't getting routine vaccinations, and thus countries are at risk of losing decades of progress for immunizations. To further ensure the safety of children returning to in-person learning, Dr. Etienne explains the importance of routine vaccinations in the fight against COVID-19, stating, "Countries must see routine immunizations for what they are: essential. These services were critical before the pandemic, and they remain central to our COVID responses, so our children don't fall further at risk."

Further stressing the importance of routine vaccines, former liaison to the CDC's vaccine advisory committee, Dr. L.J. Tan, cautions against potential future outcomes if routine vaccination numbers do not increase. He tells CNN, "The biggest challenge here is an increase in vaccine-preventable diseases. We'll see outbreaks. We'll see surges of increased morbidity because of increased disease. And we'll see increased costs to the health care system."