Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the provision of routine childhood immunizations in Ontario, Canada


Background The COVID-19 pandemic has a worldwide impact on all health services, including childhood immunizations. In Canada, there is limited data to quantify and characterize this issue. Methods We conducted a descriptive, cross-sectional study by distributing online surveys to physicians across Ontario. The survey included three sections: provider characteristics, impact of COVID-19 on professional practice, and impact of COVID-19 on routine childhood immunization services. Multivariable logistic regression identified factors associated with modification of immunization services. Results A total of 475 respondents answered the survey from May 27th to July 3rd 2020, including 189 family physicians and 286 pediatricians. The median proportion of in-person visits reported by physicians before the pandemic was 99% and dropped to 18% during the first wave of the pandemic in Ontario. In total, 175 (44.6%) of the 392 respondents who usually provide vaccination to children acknowledged a negative impact caused by the pandemic on their immunization services, ranging from temporary closure of their practice (n=18; 4.6%) to postponement of vaccines in certain age groups (n=103; 26.3%). Pediatricians were more likely to experience a negative impact on their immunization services compared to family physicians (adjusted odds ratio [aOR]=2.64, 95% CI: 1.48-4.68), as well as early career physicians compared to their more senior colleagues (aOR=2.69, 95% CI: 1.30-5.56), whereas physicians from suburban settings were less impacted than physicians from urban settings (aOR=0.62, 95% CI: 0.39-0.99). The most frequently identified barriers to immunizations during the pandemic were parental concerns around COVID-19 (n=305; 77.8%), lack of personal protective equipment (PPE; n=123; 31.3%) and healthcare workers’ concerns of contracting COVID-19 (n=105; 26.8%). Conclusions COVID-19 has caused substantial modifications to pediatric immunization services across Ontario. Strategies to mitigate barriers to immunizations during the pandemic need to be implemented in order to avoid immunity gaps that could lead to an increase in vaccine preventable diseases.