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Pandemic’s impact on routine child vaccination puts Arizonans of all ages at risk

Arizona has long had some of the most linient childhood vaccination policies in the nation. Parents of children enrolled in school or child care can refuse to immunize their children by submitting a medical, religious, or personal belief exemption. The use of these exemptions has skyrocketed over the past few years. Unsurprisingly, our schools are rapidly losing herd immunity to diseases that pose a serious risk to children, older adults, immune-compromised individuals, and pregnant people and their newborns.

In the 2020-2021 school year, kindergarteners in Arizona fell far short of recommended benchmarks for protecting the community from measles, mumps, and rubella. Only Yuma and Santa Cruz counties exceeded the 95% threshold needed to achieve community immunity from these diseases.

The newly approved budget passed by Governor Ducey and the Legislature further compromises our ability to protect those with vulnerable immune systems. Tucked in the budget is a blanket prohibition on “COVID-19 vaccine passports.” It also prohibits schools from requiring the COVID-19 or HPV vaccines, and adds layers of red tape that must be completed by the Arizona Department of Health Services before any new vaccine can be required for school attendance.

A new report by researchers at Georgetown’s Center for Children and Families sheds light on a growing crisis, one fueled by inequity in our health care systems.

During 2020, visits to pediatric offices declined by a cumulative 27%, meaning fewer children were receiving timely developmental screenings, scheduled vaccines, and other routine and preventive care. The impact of this decline in pediatric visits is starkly apparent in data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Vaccines for Children (VFC) programs: in 2020, the number of childhood vaccine doses ordered by physicians decreased by 11.7 million.

This fact is compounded by the disproportionate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on certain populations, including Black and Latinx communities* and low-income households, who are more likely to have missed a routine pediatric visit during the pandemic and who were less likely to be on track with recommended vaccination schedule prior to the health crisis.

The state’s approach to public health policy leaves us all exceptionally vulnerable – not just to COVID-19, but to future pandemics that will be attributable to this reduction in childhood vaccination rates. We hope common sense leadership and evidence-driven policy will be willing to speak up for science and dismantle the harm caused by anti-vaccine sentiment in coming years.

*Data was suppressed for American Indian / Alaska Native children. CAA acknowledges this omission and respects Tribal data sovereignty.

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