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Doctors push to get kids caught up on vaccines missed during pandemic

Pediatric vaccine rates dropped across California, worldwide
Posted at 6:30 AM, May 26, 2023
and last updated 2023-05-26 11:04:23-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - Doctors and healthcare systems across San Diego are joining in a worldwide push to help people catch up on any vaccines they missed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In late April, the WHO announced "The Big Catch-Up" as part of World Immunization Week. Their goal was to reverse several years of declining vaccination rates among the youngest children.

According to UNICEF, 1 in 5 children around the world have either never received an immunization, or are under-vaccinated. And during the pandemic, their research shows 67 million children missed at least one of the key immunizations that kids should get before the age of 2. Doctors with the WHO and Unicef say the pandemic erased 15 years of progress in vaccinations around the world.

In California, the percentage of kids who had received all 7 of their core vaccines dropped from 72% in 2020 to 65% in 2021.

"Unfortunately, I think there are lots of families who have had disruptions in their healthcare, perhaps even changes in their coverage," says Dr. Jershonda Hartsfield, a Pediatrician from Sharp Rees-Stealy. "They're not sure where to get vaccines. There's misinformation online about vaccines."

Dr. Hartsfield also says fear of COVID kept many families from taking their kids to routine well checks or vaccination appointments, as parents didn't want to expose infants to the coronavirus.

Within the Sharp family of clinics in San Diego, the percentage of kids who received all 10 recommended vaccines by the time they turned two dropped from 72.5% in 2020 to 67.3% in 2922,

To help bring those numbers back up, Sharp has started doing a special Saturday clinic once per month at their offices in Santee. It lets families come in for vaccines on a day and time that fits their busy schedule.

"It's never too late, right," says Dr. Hartsfield. "We want to make sure that we get children in and get them protected from these vaccines."

She adds parents should not feel ashamed or embarrassed because a child missed a shot. And vaccine schedules can pick up right where they left off to get children caught up quickly.

"What we're trying to prevent is an increase in these vaccine-preventable illnesses starting to come back and have an effect on our youngest patients," Dr. Hartsfield says. "Don't let your child be one of the statistics that becomes susceptible to these illnesses. Bring them in, get them the vaccine."

At Scripps Healthcare in San Diego, several clinics went against the trend. Three clinics, Rancho Bernardo, Mission Valley, and Rancho San Diego, have better 2-year-old vaccination numbers so far in 2023 compared to 2019. One clinic in Carmel Valley went down by 1.5%. Another Scripps clinic in Santee saw vaccine numbers drop 11.4%.

Scripps Health Pediatrics Chair Dr. Erik Hogen says his team did extra outreach throughout the pandemic to make sure parents kept bringing their youngest children in for routine check-ups and vaccines.

"We are able to, through out Electronic Medical Record system, search and find those patients who have not been in for a well check in a certain number of months or certain number of years," Dr. Hogen explains.

He says when they found a patient overdue, nurses would call them and set up an appointment.

"It's really as simple as that!"

That's a strategy Sharp is now using as well to bring people back in to the doctors office. They hope parents realize it's never too late to catch up.

For a look at San Diego's immunization coverage, the County offers maps broken down by age and school/daycare facility. You can find them here.