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Fewer Colorado kids are getting vaccinated following the pandemic

Emergency room doctors are seeing illnesses they haven't seen in years, and it's costing billions of dollars a year to treat vaccine-preventable diseases.

DENVER — Inside Children’s Hospital Colorado, doctors know they’re treating patients who could’ve avoided ending up there.

"It’s always really challenging to see any kid sick and it’s worse when you know that something could have been done to prevent it," said Dr. Jessica Cataldi, a Pediatrician and Infectious Disease Specialist at Children’s Hospital Colorado. 

The doctors treating Colorado's kids are seeing something in their emergency rooms they aren’t used to. More and more kids are coming to the hospital sick with diseases that are preventable with vaccines. Since the start of the pandemic, doctors say vaccine uptake has decreased.

"My biggest concern as physician is that diseases that we can prevent, and in some cases diseases that we even eliminated from the U.S. with vaccinations are coming back and are now becoming more common again," Cataldi said. 

The conversations Cataldi has with families about vaccinating against preventable diseases like measles, the flu or whooping cough have become harder.

She said the pandemic caused routine childhood vaccinations to fall and the numbers haven’t picked back up. 

In fact, Colorado is struggling. New research from Children's Hospital Colorado and the nonprofit Immunize Colorado shows only 71% of children born in 2018 were fully vaccinated with the Center for Disease Control’s recommended vaccine series by age two. That ranks Colorado 32nd in the nation. The goal was to have a 90% vaccination rate by that year. 

"People who I’ve learned from said, yeah, it’s been decades since I saw measles," Cataldi said. "Or it’s been decades since I saw a kid with this kind of meningitis. We’re seeing those things again."

It’s costing lots of money. Cataldi's research shows hospital charges to treat kids with the flu totaled more than $195 million in Colorado in 2020.

COVID-19 is now considered a vaccine preventable disease. In fact, it and the flu now top the list of preventable diseases with the most hospitalizations in Colorado.

Cataldi doesn’t want to see any more kids who could’ve prevented a hospital stay.

"As an infectious disease specialist, at the end of the day, I think, 'Ok, well there is one more disease I have to worry about' in addition to the long list of diseases we already think about in childhood," she said.

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