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State health officials fear dual outbreaks in children

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“Town Crier” newsletter – Briefs from the Region (1) – 5/27/20

Since the start of the pandemic, the number of vaccines administered to children for diseases like polio and hepatitis B have dropped dramatically, reports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The phenomenon, while national in scale, is also present in Montana; this has Montana’s top health officials concerned, if not for the health of the children then for the resources a preventable outbreak might draw from COVID-19 efforts. According to Montana Public Radio, the CDC is drawing data from the Vaccines for Children Program, a free immunizations for uninsured initiative that vaccinates roughly 50 percent of children under 5 years old in the U.S. Cindy Farr, health promotion director for the Missoula City-County Health Department, told MTPR, visits to the health department’s immunization clinic have remained low even as the state opens up. “Well, I can tell you that our immunization clinic used to see a steady flow of traffic, and enough to keep three nurses busy all day. And at this point, we’ve got only one nurse working and we’re only getting maybe half a dozen people a day coming in,” she told the outlet, a phenomenon echoed by health departments across the state. This is cause for additional concern, considering Montana consistently falls below the 90 percent immunization rate needed to build herd immunity against diseases like measles, and Montana has had outbreaks of mumps and pertussis in recent years. “You know, we are pretty taxed on resources right now, and so trying to make sure that everyone is well cared for and that we’re able to get the contact investigation and contact tracing done for two outbreaks, and not just one, is also concerning,” Farr said.

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