Childhood immunization rates decline in North Dakota

Child Vaccination
Child Vaccination(MGN)
Published: Apr. 7, 2022 at 5:03 PM CDT
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BISMARCK, N.D. (KFYR) - Disruptions in essential health services during the pandemic is putting kids at risk for developing avoidable ailments. Routine childhood immunization rates have declined, according to the North Dakota Department of Health.

Vaccines are credited with the decline of contagious and potentially life-threatening diseases like measles, mumps, and meningitis. That’s why kids receive vaccinations throughout childhood and North Dakota Health officials say it’s important to regularly visit the doctor.

School kids are required by state law to stay up to date on vaccinations.

“A vaccine in general is introduction of an antigen to your body so your body recognizes it and knows it doesn’t belong there,” said Kate Gartner, school nurse coordinator for Bismarck Public Schools.

Yet between 2019 and 2021, MMR vaccination rates among North Dakota infants decreased more than 6% and meningococcal vaccination rates among North Dakota teens decreased more than 5% according to the NDDoH. Immunization director Molly Howell says during this time Covid-19 may have taken precedence over routine healthcare.

“So, we are hopeful now that Covid-19 cases have declined, people will be more willing to go to a healthcare provider, go to local public health and get more routine immunizations they may have missed during the pandemic,” said Molly Howell, immunization director with the North Dakota Department of Health.

Health officials say declining vaccination can lead to reemerge of previously eradicated viruses, like the measles. Prior to the measles vaccine in 1963, between 400 and 500 people died and 48,000 were hospitalized each year due to the ailment.

Declining vaccination rates could also impact schools down the road.

“Right now, it’s not affecting us a lot because most of those immunizations are given before the age of two. Our incoming kindergarteners already had those before the pandemic. We might see it in a couple of years, but hopefully not,” said Gartner.

Bismarck Public Schools health officials say they work with students and families to remove any barriers to health care, like transportation or cost.

“We don’t want infectious diseases in our schools and kids having to miss school,” said Howell.

In the meantime, health officials say now is the time for routine health checks for adults and kids alike whether it be immunizations, cancer screenings, or diabetes checks.

A new year for sports physicals starts on April 15th. Physicals done on or after April 15th are good for the fall. School officials say incoming 7th or 11th graders may need some vaccines to be caught up.

Parents can find immunization information at www.health.nd.gov/immunize.

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