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AURORA, Colo. (KDVR) — While COVID-19 vaccinations are on the rise in Colorado, childhood vaccine rates a sinking at an alarming rate.

An independent report released from Children’s Hospital Colorado on Monday shows that healthcare charges to treat vaccine-preventable diseases like measles, flu and whooping cough in Colorado adults and children reached $1.1 billion. That was before COVID-19 emerged.

Children’s Colorado said vaccine-preventable diseases were the culprit in over 14,000 hospitalizations and emergency department visits in children, and over 20,000 in adults.

In 2020, Colorado’s already-low childhood vaccination rates dropped further when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Compared to the number of doses delivered January to March 15, doses delivered after March 15 to May were 31% lower for children 0-2 years, 78% lower for 3-9 years, and 82% lower for 10-17 years of age. Although vaccination rates have improved since this initial drop, they have not returned to pre-pandemic levels.

The group most impacted by low VPD vaccination rates where publically insured and uninsured children and adults, with medical bills amounting to $900 million in 2019.

“The consequences of this period of under-vaccination may only become clear as pandemic mitigation measures ease up over the next year,” said Doctor Jessican Cataldi, the report’s co-author and infectious diseases pediatrician at Children’s Hospital Colorado.

Low VPD vaccination rates could lead to more school absences post pandemic. The Immunize Colorado analysis of the Colorado 2019-20 school year shows that potentially 45,000 students would possibly be excluded from school for up to 21 days due to missing their MMR — measles, mumps, rubella — vaccine.

“That’s why it’s critical for health care providers to create opportunities for vaccination catch-up now and help get kids back on track,” said Dr. Cataldi.

For more information on VPDs and vaccination catch-up, visit the Immunize Colorado website.