UCSF doctor warns 'measles is way more infectious than COVID,' concerned children aren't being vaccinated during pandemic

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- As the shelter-in-place continues, so does a looming health threat that could extend beyond the COVID-19 pandemic.

The chief pediatrician at UCSF told ABC7 that almost all pediatricians across the U.S. are worried about childhood vaccination rates.

The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) has said 117 million children in 37 countries may not get immunized on time to prevent a new outbreak of measles.

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San Francisco pediatrician, Dr. Lisa Dana, said "during the first few weeks of shelter-in-place, our visits were down 60-70% and our vaccination rates were down more than 50%, more than half our patients were not receiving the vaccinations they needed."

Like many medical offices, Dr. Dana says Golden Gate Pediatrics has setup health screenings at the front door, staggered appointment times, and only well-child visits, to keep their staff and 12,000 patients safe.

She says patients are starting to slowy come back into the office and that in the past week vaccinations at Golden Gate Pediatrics have only been down 15-20%.

In April, the CDC said...

- About 3.2 million fewer doses of non-flu vaccines were order compared to the same time last year
- About 400,000 fewer doses of measles vaccines were ordered compared to the same time last year

Dr. Lee Atkinson-McEvoy is the chief of general pediatrics at UCSF. She's worried about a resurgence in "measles, there's also pertussis, haemophilus influenza, which is a bacterial infection, strep pneumoniae."

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"Were really worried that as we start to see the regression from the COVID pandemic, we're going to see untold cases of measles. Measles is way more infectious than COVID is, so it's something to be much more feared than being exposed to COVID."

"The populations who are most vulnerable who we want to protect, are children who have significant chronic illness, children who have cancer and are still undergoing their chemotherapy and their treatment, children with immune system dysfunction where they can't get vaccines. They rely on all of us around them to be vaccinated," said Dr. Atkinson-McEvoy.

Concerned parents have been chiming in on social media about the immunization drop, including Melanie Wickersheim, a San Francisco mother, whose daughter is on schedule to get her one-year-old vaccines in a few weeks for her own protection, as well as her mother's...

"I had a heart transplant 25 years ago, and so I take immunosuppressant medications," said Wickersheim, who can not get vaccines and is extremely susceptible to illness.

"I could become very sick from measles, be hospitalized, I think there's certainly a risk of death."

For her the COVID-19 fear factor that's keeping many families away from the doctor's office, is personal.

"My health depends on other people getting vaccinated. I rely on the community to protect me with herd immunity."

"There's not a whole lot we can do about COVID right now, except for following orders for shelter-in-place, and social distance, but measles has a vaccine."

More than fear is keeping some families away. Dr. Atkinson-McEvoy said that busy healthcare and essential workers who haven't had time to bring their kids to the pediatricians, and people who have lost jobs and their insurance, for example, are also part of the immunization drop.

Dr. Atkinson-McEvoy points out that vaccines are always available for free through clinics and your local health department.

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