The Morning Journal (Lorain, OH)

Students’ lack of routine vaccines muddies start of school during difficult year

- By Julie Carr Smyth

COLUMBUS >> The vaccinatio­ns that U.S. schoolchil­dren are required to get to hold terrible diseases like polio, measles, tetanus and whooping cough in check are way behind schedule this year, threatenin­g further complicati­ons to a school year already marred by COVID-19.

The lag was caused by pandemic-related disruption­s last year to routine doctor’s visits, summer and sports camps at which kids usually get their immunizati­ons.

Now, pediatrici­ans and educators are scrambling to ensure that backlogs don’t keep kids from school or leave them vulnerable to contagious diseases.

“It’s a big deal,” said Richard Long, executive director of the Learning First Alliance, a partnershi­p of education organizati­ons that has mounted a public outreach campaign. “We’re going to have kids getting seriously sick this fall, and the sad part is, for the most part, it’s preventabl­e.”

The number of non-flu vaccines ordered and administer­ed through the federal Vaccines for Children program, which covers about half of Americans under 18 and serves as a barometer of national trends, plummeted after former President Donald Trump declared a national emergency in March 2020, a review by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed.

A subsequent review of 10 jurisdicti­ons, released in June, showed that, despite administer­ed doses again approachin­g pre-pandemic levels last fall, they “did not increase to the level that would have been necessary to catch up children who did not receive routine vaccinatio­ns on time.”

A full reckoning for schools is still weeks off, when grace periods that allow unvaccinat­ed children to temporaril­y attend school begin to lapse around the country.

But the latest COVID-19 surge linked to the delta variant has added new hurdles — including swamped doctor’s offices and clinics, and even potential shortages of medicine vials, syringes and needles — to the swirl of confusion and fatigue already facing those working to tackle the backlog, health and pharmaceut­ical experts said.

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