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One of the unintended consequences of COVID-19 lockdown and quarantine measures in the U.S. is seen in childhood vaccination rates. Overall, these rates plummeted when the first emergency measures took place in March 2020.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported a drop of more than 2 million in the number of doses of non-influenza vaccines ordered from late March to early April. Orders for measles-containing vaccines alone dropped by more than 300,000 doses.

Children were simply not getting their shots because all routine medical visits were being cancelled.

weekly changes in vaccines

Another CDC report indicates that the percentage of 5-month-olds who were up-to-date on their vaccinations in May 2020 was at 49.7% as compared with previous years when the rate was north of 66%. According to an article by Scientific American, New York City health officials cited that vaccination rates for children under 2 were down by 63% during the first two month of lockdown as compared to previous years.

Concomitant with this drop in infant vaccination is an overall drop in reports of infant vaccine adverse events on the CDC’s Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System (VAERS). VAERS is a “passive surveillance” system used by the CDC to monitor any potential vaccine injury from shots administered in the U.S.

Where the number of reports of adverse events (AEs) for infants 2 and under was consistently above 4,000 for 2016 to 2019, in 2020, it dropped to just 2,303 — approximately half the number seen in previous years.

Interestingly, there has been a precipitous drop in Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) reports as well, as seen in the figure below. Where the rate of reporting of SIDS between 2014 and 2019 is approximately 20, in 2020, it drops by 75% to just 5 reports.

This is by far the lowest yearly number recorded in the history of VAERS, where the second-lowest was 13 incidents recorded in both 2008 and 2009.

SIDS Deaths 2014 - 2020

An overall drop in infant mortality (i.e., children below one year of age) was also reported by Becker and Blaxill in June 2020. Their report, based on data from the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics, showed a steep drop in mortality between February and May 2020. The rate has continued to drop through September 1, 2020 with an overall reduction in mortality of approximately 50 children per week, or 12.5%.

Additionally, a drop in spontaneous abortions was observed for 2020 using the VAERS database. Where the rate had been between 31 to 47 reports between 2014 and 2019, in 2020, the number dropped to just 20, as shown in the figure below.

This is the lowest number of spontaneous abortion reports since 2005, which is just after the CDC’s recommendation for the flu shot for pregnant women in any trimester of pregnancy. This may be due to a drop in vaccinations overall in the U.S. population, which would include pregnant women receiving the influenza and Tdap vaccines.

Reported Spontaneous Abortions 2014 - 2020

Drops in both SIDS death and spontaneous abortion reports to VAERS suggest a relationship between infant and fetal demise and vaccination. As the downturn in vaccination rates has afforded a unique opportunity to elucidate the presence or absence of such correlations, these effects require at a minimum further study.

The publicly funded CDC Vaccine Safety Datalink, which contains medical records of more than 9 million patients, is unfortunately closed to independent researchers (i.e., those outside the CDC). This is a crying shame as this database would be the perfect vehicle to study these effects directly.

VAERS gives an incomplete picture of the magnitude of the effect as it is a voluntary, passive surveillance system which is woefully under-reported.

It is long past time that CDC officials opened the more robust Vaccine Safety Datalink to the public to better understand the effects I present here and to protect against vaccine adverse events, including those that lead to infant and fetal mortality.