Vaccines were always a priority, but the measles cases “reinforced their importance” since her daughter was an infant at the time and not eligible for the highly effective measles, mumps and rubella, or MMR, vaccine.
“All it takes is a whiff in the wrong direction,” Crimmins said. “You share air space with someone with active measles and if you have no vaccine, you’ll get measles.”
Crimmins, an emergency medicine physician, ended up getting the MMR vaccine early for her daughter and kept up with vaccine schedules through the coronavirus pandemic for her daughter, now almost 4, and her son, 9 months. They also have their flu shots and she’s anxiously waiting for COVID-19 vaccines to be authorized for children under age 5, something that’s expected to happen in the coming weeks.
Crimmins treats people who avoided medical care during the pandemic and understands how parents get behind on routine shots and even why they may have put off the COVID-19 vaccine. But she urges them to consider what happens to kids even when they don’t get sick enough for the emergency room. Her daughter’s day care was closed most of December due to COVID-19 because other children had the coronavirus.
“She really missed the structure of school,” Crimmins said.
Public health experts say people have a lot of reasons to skip vaccines, from concerns about going to the doctor or missing work, fear of side effects of the new COVID-19 vaccine, or even feeling well enough that they don’t believe vaccines are necessary.
The CDC reported in April that Maryland had among the largest drops of state reporting in routine vaccinations in the 2020-2021 school year, when more than 8% of kindergartners didn’t show proof of vaccination when starting school. Normally, kindergartners have had two doses of the MMR vaccine. In the years before the pandemic, nearly all were either vaccinated or had obtained an exemption.
The Maryland Department of Health did report progress during the school year: There were about 10,000 kids without routine vaccinations in November, down from more than 23,000 during the summer, among 17 counties and Baltimore City that reported data to the state. Not all counties updated their data in the fall, and no new data has been provided.
Some, but not all, likely have caught up, said Dr. James Campbell, a pediatric infectious disease specialist in the University of Maryland School of Medicine and the site’s principal investigator on children’s COVID-19 vaccines.
“It’s definitely worrying that there still is a gap,” he said. “Things that worry us the most are the ones that are most contagious and measles is the most contagious.”