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We’re letting our routine vaccinations slide, say experts

Even as the world is waiting for one specific vaccination to be created, many others are being ignored.

While novel coronavirus is top of mind, health officials warn that large numbers of people around the world aren’t being vaccinated for other diseases – an estimated 20 to 50 per cent drop.

Dr. Anne Pham-Huy, chair of Immunize Canada and pediatric infectious disease specialist, has seen the drop-off firsthand.

“At the beginning of the pandemic, many paediatricians, primary care providers, infectious disease specialists were concerned about this decrease in publicly funded vaccine administrations. Anytime you have a decrease in immunization and immunization coverage, that means that there is a population that could be susceptible to vaccine-preventable infection.”

Currently, if you are behind on immunizations booking an appointment with a doctor will take longer than typical due to COVID-19 guidelines. Doctors’ offices are a possible incubator for the spread of viruses such as COVID; especially for seniors that have regular appointments in these facilities.

Dr. Zahid Butt, an assistant professor in the School of Public Health and Health Systems at the University of Waterloo, says that even during a pandemic it remains crucial to stay up to date with immunizations.

“What happens with your herd immunity levels for vaccine-preventable diseases [is] they go down. So, if your herd immunity goes down in a population, then it [becomes] possible that you can get those diseases that you originally were vaccinated for.”

In developing nations, a skip in immunizations has resulted in a rise of viruses and diseases, some of which had remained dormant or thought to be extinct.

“In developing countries where you have polio and where they have campaigns or, polio viruses, what has happened with these campaigns is that they have stopped […] because of the COVID-19 crisis. So, once you stop these campaigns, there is a resurgence of viruses like polio because you are not really immunizing these populations against [these things] so you will see those increases,” explained Butt.

While the world waits for a cure/solution to COVID-19, “for routine vaccinations, people shouldn’t wait, they should try to update the vaccinations for the children and [themselves]. For example, if the flu season is coming through, just because we are in the middle of the COVID-19 crisis, that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t take your flu vaccination,” he said.

Although fears may be real during the pandemic, doctors’ offices and clinics that offer immunizations continue to practice measures and protocols to prevent the spread of the novel-coronavirus while keeping maintaining access to routine vaccines.

While busy with COVID-19, Region of Waterloo Public Health, too, is spreading the word about regular vaccinations.

“Public Health values the importance of immunization and continues to work with community health-care providers to keep children and adults immunized. As the province begins reopening more services, and schools formally announce their plans for reopening in the fall, we will work with health care partners and other community organizations to ensure our high rates of immunizations are maintained, while balancing the need to protect clients with physical distancing and other infection control measures,” said spokesperson  Kerri Hutchinson in a statement.

Pham-Huy’s notes the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions should allow more people to get vaccines they may have missed.

“I don’t have the most recent numbers, but I am hopeful that with an increase in in person visits and accessibility that we’ll be able to continue to provide but also catch up on the patients that did not receive their immunizations.”

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