(CNN) Childhood vaccinations have plunged since the Covid-19 pandemic began spreading through the United States, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday.
The CDC reported a "notable decrease" in the number of vaccines ordered through a federal program that immunizes half of all kids in the country. Unvaccinated or under-vaccinated children will be at risk of other infectious diseases besides coronavirus, the CDC cautioned.
"The decline began the week after the national emergency declaration; similar declines in orders for other vaccines were also observed," the CDC's Dr. Jeanne Santoli and colleagues reported.
"As social distancing requirements are relaxed, children who are not protected by vaccines will be more vulnerable to diseases such as measles."
The Washington State Department of Health said providers in the state vaccine program had reported they gave out 30% fewer vaccines in March of this year compared to previous years. "In April, preliminarily, we are seeing a 42% decrease," the department said in a statement.
The American Academy of Pediatrics expressed alarm about the report.
"Immunizing infants, children and adolescents is important, and should not be delayed," Dr. Sally Goza, president of the AAP, said in a statement.
"I'm also concerned that children who have missed vaccines, have also missed other health care that occurs during those visits, including physical exams, developmental screenings, and other important care that should not be delayed," she said.
The group said pediatricians should be doing all they can to encourage parents to bring children in for vaccinations and other important visits, including separating sick children from well children and reaching out to remind families to make appointments.
"We know parents are worried," Goza added.
"We want to reassure all our families that pediatricians have innovated ways to make visits even safer, including setting different hours or locations for well and sick children, rigorous sanitation and cleaning practices, and conducting portions of visits by telehealth."
The AAP published new recommendations Friday for pediatricians to help keep kids safer during the pandemic.
"Pediatricians should identify children who have missed well-child visits and/or recommended vaccinations and contact them to schedule in person appointments inclusive of newborns, infants, children, and adolescents," the AAP said.
"Pediatricians should work with families to bring children up to date as quickly as possible."
Offices and clinics can schedule well-child visits at different times of the day from sick visits, the group suggested. Or they can physically separate sick patients from families in for routine wellness checks.
The CDC recommends that children get 14 different vaccinations protecting against 19 different pathogens. Timing is important for many of the vaccines to create the strongest immunity.
The American Heart Association has expressed concern that Americans in general are afraid to visit clinics, including emergency clinics, for fear of catching the coronavirus or because they worry about overburdening the system.