PORTSMOUTH, Va. (Wave) – The CDC is warning that 250,000 young children are at risk of measles as vaccination rates decline for the second year in a row.
“My biggest fear is that unvaccinated children could have bad outcomes,” said Dr. Douglas Mitchell, medical director of Children’s Hospital at King’s Daughters Medical Group.
Mitchell has seen the impact of measles and other vaccine-preventable diseases on children.
“With any of these, you’re talking about a child who could be dying in the hospital or in the ICU from some of these diseases that are clearly vaccine-preventable,” he told WAVY.
Vaccination rates for childhood diseases are now the lowest in more than a decade.
“If you have the potential for an outbreak, that’s important,” Mitchell said.
That’s exactly what’s happening in central Ohio, where 85 measles cases have been reported, mostly in unvaccinated children. Of these, 34 children were hospitalized.
So what are the risks in Hampton Roads?
According to the Virginia Department of Health, just 69 percent of kindergarten students in Portsmouth public schools are vaccinated, followed by 85 percent in Norfolk, followed by 88 percent in Newport News and 89 percent in Virginia Beach. The Hamptons, Suffolk and Chesapeake are all above 90%.
Overall immunization rates among children have declined since the start of the COVID pandemic. The CDC blamed the decline on disruptions to schools and the health care system.
In some cases, vaccine hesitancy has grown, Mitchell added. It’s something he says doctors have to deal with without judgment when speaking to parents.
“The fever caused by the vaccine is temporary, (but) the adverse consequences of complications from the actual disease are permanent,” he said.
Mitchell is hopeful that immunization rates will improve as children resume a regular visitation program.
Meanwhile, in a separate report, the CDC said children born in 2018-2019 saw a slight increase in vaccine coverage by the time they turned two compared with children born the previous year.