TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) – Vaccination rates of young children who rely on county health departments to provide shots dipped in 2021, with a top Florida health official describing a decrease in vaccinations of 2-year-olds as “alarming.”

The statewide vaccination rate for children between 24 and 35 months old who rely on county health departments was 79.3 percent in 2021, a drop from 93.4 percent the year before, an analysis of vaccination records conducted by the Florida Department of Health shows. Meanwhile, the statewide vaccination rate for 1-year-old children was 67 percent, down from 73 percent the previous year.

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Carina Blackmore, director of the Florida Department of Health Division of Disease Control and Health Protection, in a June 4 memorandum attributed the declines to the impact of measures taken to curb the spread of COVID-19. The virus caused licensed day-care centers to close and parents to seek telehealth services instead of in-person appointments.

“While these measures may have reduced the spread of the virus they may have also contributed to parents postponing routine childhood vaccination,” she wrote.

Blackmore in the memo called the drop in the percentage of 2-year-olds getting vaccinated “alarming.”

She also acknowledged that public-health measures and reprioritization of county health departments toward COVID-19 activities “likely contributed to the significant decrease in vaccinations coverage this year.”

Only county health departments that were primarily responsible for the vaccination of young children born between January 2018 and December 2019 were included in the department’s review.

The state annually reviews the performance of county health departments to see if they are reaching vaccination goals. Florida has a 90 percent vaccination goal for 2-year-old children and an 80 percent vaccination goal for 1-year-old children.

The vaccination report is one of three reviews the state health department conducts annually, along with a random review of vaccinations of randomly selected 2-year-old children to help determine county vaccination rates and a review of randomly selected child-care facilities to ascertain the immunization status of preschool children.

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The state has not updated the latter two analyses since 2019. Those analyses also would include children who are immunized at healthcare facilities other than health departments.

For the 2021 analysis, the state examined the performance of 36 county health departments that vaccinated 2,700 children between the ages of 24 and 35 months to ascertain vaccination rates for 2-year-olds.

The Broward County Health Department, with 517 2-year old children relying on it for vaccinations, had the lowest vaccination rate at 44.1 percent. The state review showed 228 of the children had received the recommended vaccinations.

Conversely, the Clay, Miami-Dade, DeSoto, Duval, Lee, Pinellas, and Santa Rosa County health departments vaccinated 100 percent of the children in that age group who rely on them for shots, according to the report.

The state is reviewing whether 2-year-olds received the recommended doses for several diseases including diphtheria, tetanus, polio, measles, mumps, and hepatitis.

“During the COVID-19 pandemic, the state of Florida has seen a dramatic decline in childhood immunizations, leaving Florida’s children and most vulnerable populations at risk for vaccine-preventable diseases,” Lisa Gwynn, president of the Florida Chapter of American Academy of Pediatrics, said in a statement to The News Service of Florida. “The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend children continue to receive routine vaccinations during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Meanwhile, 37 county health departments and the records of 2,254 children between the ages of 12 and 23 months were included in the review of 1-year-old vaccination rates.

Bradford County had an 89.6 percent vaccine rate, the highest in the state for 1-year-old children. Sixty of the 67 1-year-old children who relied on Bradford County had all their recommended vaccinations. No county health departments had 100 percent immunization rates among 1-year-old children.

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CBSMiami.com Team