ROCHESTER, Minn. — It's been brushed to the side in our focus on COVID-19: childhood immunizations.

Ironically, these very shots are among the proposed reasons why young children do not do as bad with the coronavirus in general. For example, a recent Mayo Clinic preprint (meaning a study that has not yet been peer-reviewed) found that recent receipt of polio, influenza, MMR and pneumonia vaccines all predicted a lower rate of COVID-19.

That benefit could have been related to the likelihood that children who get shots are protected from exposures to viruses in general, but several mechanisms suggest the immune system gets stronger at fighting everything with immunizations, including COVID-19.

The flu shot is proposed to increase T-cells that have so-called cross-reactivity, or general cellular immunity. The MMR vaccine has been called a potentially "low-risk-high-reward preventive measure in saving lives during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

And researchers probing the mechanism for this nonspecific protection have proposed that the MMR vaccine "could provide a broad neutralizing antibody against numbers of diseases, including COVID-19." Immunizations are also expected to reduce demand for services as the virus resurges in the fall.

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And yet use of these interventions has plunged. As of late June, 70-80% of children had missed routine well-child care due to COVID-19, according to the Minnesota Medical Association. The reasons for the drop-off include the ceasing of all elective care during COVID-19 lockdown, but also the reluctance of parents to bring their children into a clinical setting for fear of contracting the virus.

“Minnesota’s physicians strongly urge parents to continue with their children’s routine vaccinations for the health and safety of their children, families and the community,” said Dr. Keith Stelter, MMA president in a statement last month. “Health care practices and clinics are doing their part to ensure a safe, secure and healthy environment for patients and vaccinations.”

State Commissioner of Health Jan Malcolm built on this appeal during a Wednesday afternoon, Aug. 5, COVID-19 media call, citing a lower figure — decreases of 30% from this time last year — while underscoring that "well child visits where immunization screening happens are still considered essential visits," and that "delaying vaccines can leave children vulnerable, and could mean they require catching up later in the year, potentially during another outbreak."

Malcolm urged parents to review their children's immunization status and make sure they are up to date with vaccines by calling the state health department at 651-201-3980 or visiting www.health.state.mn.us/immunize to request a copy of their child's current immunizations records.

"We want to emphasize that our providers have worked very hard to make it safe to access well child care," Malcolm said, "including in-home visits, drive-up clinics, and adding designated hours or rooms for well child visits."

Minnesota reported 629 cases of COVID-19 Wednesday. The state now has 57,779 laboratory-confirmed cases of coronavirus.

Among the counties showing upticks in new cases, St. Louis County recorded 21 new cases on Wednesday.

The state recorded an additional nine deaths from the virus on Wednesday. The deaths were recorded among residents of Aitkin, Crow Wing, Dakota, Scott and Hennepin counties, the latter of which reported five deaths. Four of the nine deaths were among residents of long-term care.

An additional 11,730 tests were reported on Wednesday. The state's health systems have now tested 887,623 residents for COVID-19.

ICU use for the virus dropped by seven beds to 152, while non-ICU hospitalization for COVID-19 dropped by 16 to 153.

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Minnesota Department of Health COVID-19 hotline: 651-201-3920.

Minnesota Department of Health COVID-19 website: Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) website.