The importance of routine vaccines in the age of the Covid-19 pandemic

Vaccine Ambassadors

Vaccine Ambassadors

August 19th, 2020

Vaccine Ambassadors

As the coronavirus grips the world, we have seen many casualties. The most obvious and heart-breaking are the lives lost to the Covid-19 pandemic. The fallout has been felt personally and collectively and the ripple effect will continue to play out in our daily lives in unexpected ways.

One of those effects has been a decrease in the number of children receiving routine vaccines globally. Lower- and middle-income countries are facing enormous additional challenges. The World Health Organization has declared that as many as 80 million babies worldwide are missing out on routine childhood vaccines because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Higher-income countries in Europe as well as North America have also reported declines in childhood immunizations.  In the US, the state of Michigan recently reported that fewer than half of infants five months or younger are up-to-date with their immunizations, leaving them potentially vulnerable to serious disease.

In the disorienting whirlwind of COVID-19, it is easy to forget that less than a year ago, the US and many European countries, particularly France, Italy and Romania, were combating another highly infectious disease, measles. While not of the same magnitude as COVID-19, this one was preventable. Thirty-one US states reported cases of measles and as the year progressed, 2019 would end with the highest number of measles cases in the US in over 25 years. Some of the largest outbreaks occurred in New York, California, and Washington, mirroring initial COVID-19 hotspots seen today.

Imagine this same scenario, but now in the presence of the pandemic. Many of the same public health measures and medical services would need to be utilized, such as contact tracing, isolation procedures, bed space, supplies, and healthcare workers. We have seen our healthcare systems overwhelmed and undersupplied. Competing for scarce resources would be detrimental.

Another preventable disease, influenza, rampages through our communities every winter filling up hospital and ICU beds and keeping adults out of work and children out of school. This year, more than any other, influenza vaccination will be critical to protecting the world from serious influenza illness, and also from overwhelming hospitals still struggling to take care of increasing numbers of patients with COVID-19. Additionally, the risks of co-infection with both influenza and COVID-19 will likely cause patients to be sicker than with either infection alone.

As the world anxiously awaits a vaccine for COVID-19, we are reminded of the power that vaccines have to save lives and prevent illness. Now more than ever we need to ensure that children continue to receive the currently available life-saving immunizations. Vaccines protect the individual, community and healthcare systems necessary to fight this unprecedented public health crisis. We know in the end, there will be many casualties of COVID-19. We cannot let the decline in childhood immunizations and those that they protect be one of them.

Jackie Kaufman
Executive Director, Vaccine Ambassadors

John Moses, MD
Duke Children’s Primary Care

Carolyn Avery, MD, Medical Director Roxboro Road Clinic
Duke Children’s Primary Care

Eliana M. Perrin, MD, MPH, FAAP
Professor of Pediatrics
Division Chief of Primary Care Pediatrics
Duke Children’s Primary Care


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