ZANESVILLE - Vaccine rates have mostly fallen during COVID-19, but Muskingum County has bucked the trend.
Cities like Columbus and other metropolitan areas with higher infection rates hit harder by the pandemic were forced to close doctors' offices during the initial wave of the pandemic. It has led to some parents holding off on required school vaccinations.
Zanesville, however, has been a different story.
"We are different from what Columbus has seen," Dr. Danielle Roberts, of Muskingum Valley Health Center in Zanesville, said recently. "We have been fortunate enough that from the moment the pandemic was seen, we adjusted our schedules and made sure our patients had their vaccinations. It was significantly important that we were able to do that."
Roberts said they staggered the patient schedule in her office to accommodate healthy and sick patients, with healthy patients coming in the morning. Some visits were deferred.
COVID didn't deter parents from scheduling.
"When we ran our reports (on number of vaccines administered), they were actually higher than they were in the past," Roberts said.
That is in stark contrast to other areas.
Office shutdowns in some cities prevented many children from receiving their vaccinations, causing concern among some health experts that an outbreak of other diseases, such as measles, rubella and whooping cough, could emerge in the near future.
The Columbus Dispatch reported recently that an estimated 16,000 fewer children were vaccinated across the Nationwide Children’s Hospital primary care network during the months of March and April compared to the year before, according to Dr. Sara Bode, a pediatrician at the Linden Primary Care Center and director of the hospital’s school health programs.
Even as Nationwide Children’s 12 offices have reopened for most services now, they still have yet to see much of a rebound in those numbers, she said.
"There are still families who are hesitant to come back in," Bode said. "It's going to be really tough for us to make up the gap, especially as new kids age into vaccines. We're going to have to get creative to get kids caught up."
Others believe in the narrative that vaccinations, despite a long history of effectiveness, are simply not healthy and are choosing to avoid them. The State of Ohio has mandated certain vaccines, including Tdap boosters for diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis for grades 7 to 12 and a meningcoccal vaccine for those entering seventh grade. Students must have two doses of meningcoccal vaccine prior to their senior years.
Roberts said she shares the same concerns about other potential disease outbreaks, calling it "a panic across the board as to what is going to happen to these other things if things shut down. What else are we going to see?"
That some parents decline vaccinations until their children are older "is frustrating for sure," Roberts said, adding some work better together rather than spacing them out.
The hesitation comes at a time when the American Academy of Pediatrics has released statements urging parents to not let vaccination schedules slip despite the COVID-19 risk, citing a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report.
The Dispatch reported that from mid-March to mid-April, the Vaccines for Children program, which provides federally purchased vaccines to 50% of children in the United States, ordered 2.5 million fewer doses of all routine, non-influenza vaccines and 250,000 fewer doses of measles-containing vaccines compared to the same period in 2019.
In addition, a survey of 1,000 independent pediatricians by PCC, a pediatric health records company, found that vaccination doses for measles, mumps and rubella fell by 50% during one week in April. Diphtheria (42%) and HPV (73%) saw similar decreases.
Roberts said at MVHC other wellness examinations among the patient population are also coming through the office. They are contracted with Zanesville City Schools.
"The 7-year-olds, 8-year-olds, we're making sure their development screens are taken care of, and getting them linked back up with occupational therapy if they need it," Roberts said. "That's good to see all of those things happening."
Sam Blackburn is a reporter with the Zanesville Times Recorder and Coshocton Tribune. He can be reached at
Twitter at @SamBlackburnTR