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As vaccination rates fall, Tennessee doctors fear second outbreak in midst of pandemic

The state Department of Health reports 43% fewer immunizations given in April compared to the year before.

Nearly half as many children received regular vaccinations in April in what the Tennessee Department of Health calls "collateral" damage from the coronavirus pandemic.

The department said during the peak of the COVID-19 lockdown, doctors vaccinated 43 percent fewer children under 19. The vaccination rate for infants up to two years old fell to 29 percent. 

Public health doctor said the drop raises concerns for outbreaks of otherwise preventable diseases, especially as students go back to class. 

"We don't need another outbreak on top of this one," Knox Co. Health Department Director of Nursing Dena Mashburn said. "Can you imagine having this covid pandemic going on and having an outbreak of something like measles?"

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In West Knoxville, Dr. R. Michael Green said he had about half as many appointments in April compared to usual. 

"Those kids who stopped coming for their vaccinations have become more susceptible to illnesses we know are still out there," he said. 

Now, the health department urged parents to play catch up. 

"We need to protect our kids and protect our families by getting the children vaccinated," Mashburn said. 

The HPV vaccines was among those with the largest drop-off in delivery. Gardasil shots are 65 percent lower than last April, the state said. 

"It prevents cancer, it's huge," Said Mashburn. 

Plus, she added, school immunization requirements have not changed which means pediatricians like Green may face a busier back to school rush.

"Come in, catch up on your vaccinations," he urged parents. "Keep your kids safe for illnesses we already have a vaccine for as we wait for a vaccination for what we're dealing with now."

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