Childhood vaccinations in New Jersey have dropped off severely during the novel coronavirus pandemic amid restrictions placed on travel, medical care and retail, New Jersey officials said Tuesday.

State Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said 40 percent fewer children under 2 years old received vaccinations between March and April 20, as compared to the same period last year. In the same period, vaccinations for children over age 2 were down 60 percent, she said.

"The need to protect serious childhood diseases like whooping cough doesn't disappear during the public health emergency," Persichilli said.

New Jersey requires several vaccinations for children to attend schools or child care centers.

Under executive orders issued by Gov. Phil Murphy in March, health care providers were ordered to postpone elective medical procedures. Many doctors' offices shifted much or all of their business to telehealth solutions, though wellness visits were still allowed.

This week, the state is once again allowing elective procedures, with precautions.

"Anything that lowers immunization rates in a community has the potential not only to leave individual patients at risk but also to set the stage for transmission and a local outbreak or wider epidemic," pediatricians Joseph Schwab and Hanan Tanuos at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School said in a statement sent to New Jersey 101.5. "This could add to the burden of an already overtaxed health care system trying to provide care during a pandemic."

At Rutgers University Pediatrics, they said, well visits are only being offered in the mornings. Sick patients are being seen in the afternoons or by telemedicine. All rooms are thoroughly cleaned in-between patients, and all staff wear masks, they said. In addition, they ask that only one adult accompany each child to his or her visit.

Persichilli, in her report during Murphy's daily press briefing Tuesday, urged health care providers to consider strategies to make vaccinations available. She said those could include wellness visits in the morning and visits by sick patients in the afternoon. She suggested providers work with their communities on finding separate locations for vaccinations, or provide curbside vaccinations. And she said they should share with their patients the steps they're taking to protect them during visits.

Persichilli also said healthcare providers and parents should prioritize vaccinations for newborns and infants up to 24 months of age.

She noted last year, New Jersey saw 19 confirmed cases of measles. Alerts were issued often throughout they year as health officials tried to limit outbreaks and clusters.

"Folks have to really get that top of mind," Murphy said of the dropoff in vaccinations.

There is no vaccination yet available for the novel coronavirus itself.

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