Kansas health organizations seek reversal of decline in child vaccination

KDHE expresses concern about flu season, ongoing COVID-19 infection

Lee Norman, secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, said the spread of COVID-19 provided extra incentive for people to get an influenza vaccination. He expects Kansas hospital resources to be stretched this fall and winter from exposure to the flu and coronavirus. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)
Lee Norman, secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, said the spread of COVID-19 provided extra incentive for people to get an influenza vaccination. He expects Kansas hospital resources to be stretched this fall and winter from exposure to the flu and coronavirus. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — A coalition of health organizations responded to Kansas’ drop in child immunizations during the pandemic Thursday by urging families to maintain pediatric appointments and stay current on vaccinations for influenza and other preventable illnesses.

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment reported 77,200 fewer vaccination orders had been submitted to the Vaccines for Children program in 2020 compared to 2019. Through August, KDHE said, the program received 280,000 orders for vaccine. That represented a decline from 358,000 orders through the same period in 2019. Likewise, the number of Kansas vaccinations reported to KDHE was lower from March through August than in that period of 2019.

In response, the Kansas Academy of Family Physicians and the Kansas chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics in collaboration with Kansas Action for Children urged families to adhere to vaccination and wellness-visit schedules for children. There is concern among health professionals about secondary outbreaks of vaccine-preventable illnesses this winter.

“We worry about the health effects for children that do not have their scheduled well checks and immunizations during this pandemic,” said Lisa Gilmer, a pediatrician in the Kansas City area and a former president of pediatric academy in Kansas.

Many non-essential procedures, surgeries and visits to medical facilities were postponed in early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Family physician Beth Oller, who practices in northwest Kansas, said parents anxious about COVID-19 could take advantage of in-home services or parking-lot opportunities to obtain vaccinations.

“Preventive health is at our core as family physicians, and something we must be diligent about in the coming months,” she said. “I have conversations with parents regarding the importance of vaccines every day in my clinic and now, sometimes, in patients’ homes.”

The three Kansas organizations plan a social media campaign to encourage families and primary care providers get children up to date on their vaccinations.

The U.S. Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services released data showing a dramatic drop in care among children enrolled in Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program. The national report said pediatric patients in March through May of this year received 44% fewer screenings for physical and cognitive development, 69% fewer dental visits, 44% fewer mental health outpatient services and 22% fewer vaccinations compared to last year.

On Wednesday, KDHE secretary Lee Norman recommended Kansas get their annual influenza vaccination by Oct. 31. Norman, a physician for 42 years, said he had never had a patient with a vaccination for influenza die of the contagious respiratory illness.

“Both the flu and COVID-19 will be spreading this fall,” he said. “We consider ourselves at the very start of the influenza season.”

He said Kansas’ hospital resources would be strained this fall and winter due to the combination of people sick with influenza or coronavirus.