67 million children missed vaccinations during the pandemic, here’s how to help them catch up

By Claire Wolters | Fact-checked by Jessica Wrubel
Published April 27, 2023

Key Takeaways

  • Tens of millions of children missed vaccinations during the pandemic.

  • Pediatricians worry this could create a gap in virus protection, making children more vulnerable to new diseases—and disease resurgence.

  • Forming trust with patients, parents, and caregivers is essential in encouraging necessary catch-up vaccinations.

A whopping 67 million children missed vaccinations during the pandemic, according to UNICE’s 2023 Flagship Report. If this number stays put, or worse, rises, it could increase the risks of new diseases spreading among some of the nation's most vulnerable residents—our kids.[]

vaccine	iStock / Getty Images Plus

vaccine iStock / Getty Images Plus

“The cornerstone of pediatric care is prevention, and what has allowed us not to see illnesses that we saw many years ago was vaccination, and its prevention of severe illness and death,” says Judith Flores, MD, a Brooklyn-based pediatrician and a fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the New York Academy of Medicine who has been practicing pediatrics for over 35 years.  

Numbers of unvaccinated children likely spiked due to missed appointments during the lockdown, and medical trust spun from pandemic traumas, Flores adds. Now that things are re-open, physicians need to rebuild trust where lost, hold on to it where it exists, and encourage patients to come in to make up for missed appointments.

“The pandemic was traumatic to everybody, particularly people with young children,” says Flores. “When you're trying to get over a trauma, you are going to be hesitant or have a period of distrust. The way most of us get around that is: we know our patients, we have continuity of care.”

Putting extra pressure on pediatric vaccinations

It’s very important to get vaccinated against many viruses at a young age, as “the immune system is ripe and ready to receive the messages from the vaccine and to develop the needed antiviral antibodies to the infection,” Flores says.

In some cases, starting young also offers lifelong protection, she adds.

Preventing viral resurgences

Some of history’s infamous viruses now lie dormant—or appear to—due to vaccination. 

It’s important to remember that these dormant states are conditional on vaccines and that, without them, risks return, Flores says. Just last year, resurgences of thought-to-be-dormant viruses like polio popped up in thinly vaccinated pockets of the US.

“These diseases don't go away just because time passes,” says Flores. “We have seen polio in this country, which is alarming, and it has to do with the lack of sufficient vaccination in the community.”

In 2022, a resurgence of the vaccine-derived poliovirus (cVDPV) virus was discovered in Rockland County, NY. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), vaccine-derived viruses are not contracted due to a recent vaccination but due to low immunity in some areas.[]

Additionally, US measles cases more than doubled in number in 2022 compared to 2021, according to the CDC. The agency noted that more measles outbreaks occur in unvaccinated communities than in those with high vaccination rates.[]

How physicians can help

To help young patients catch up on vaccinations, physicians should first and foremost foster or maintain trust with parents, caregivers, and children. After that, they can help people with a vaccination schedule that meets their needs. Physicians can also expedite the catch-up process for some patients by encouraging combination vaccines.

Combination vaccines fight against more than one virus and can help save time in catching up on multiple vaccinations and cut back on the potential side effects that result from multiple sticks of the needle.

According to the CDC, combination vaccines offer the same level of protection with fewer pricks. Some common combination vaccines you may want to recommend include:[]

The Pediarix vaccine: For fighting diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, hepatitis B, and polio

  • The Pentacel vaccine: For fighting diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, polio, and Haemophilus influenzae type B (HiB)

  • The Kinrix Quadracel vaccine: For fighting Diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, and polio

  • The Vaxelis vaccine: For fighting Diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, polio, hepatitis B, and Hib

  • The ProQuad vaccine: For fighting measles, mumps, rubella, and varicella

Getting those vaccines and catching up now—which is what we're doing in a lot of cases—is extremely important,” says Flores. “We have the appointments, we have the providers [in some places]. We need to get the message out that this is very important.”

What this means for you

If you have young patients who are not up-to-date on their vaccinations, encourage necessary catch-up appointments through transparent conversations with parents and/or caregivers.

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