Sudden and unexpected infant deaths increased significantly in the U.S. in 2020, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data, even as child vaccination rates dropped, contrary to posts claiming that sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) became virtually nonexistent because of missed vaccinations.

Posts on Facebook and Instagram feature a paragraph of text claiming SIDS became “nearly non-existent” during 2020 COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns, after “millions of babies missed their scheduled vaccines.” Users suggest that vaccinations therefore increase infant mortality in the U.S.

The first year of the COVID-19 pandemic did decrease uptake of pediatric preventive care, with a third of parents reporting their child missed a vaccination, according to a study published in the journal Preventive Medicine.

However, it is false that SIDS became “nearly non-existent” in 2020.

SIDS is the unexplained death of a baby who stops breathing, often during sleep. The cause is unknown, but it may be related to problems affecting automatic brain functions like breathing and waking. A history of a recent respiratory infection is also often seen in babies who die from SIDS.

There were approximately 1,389 deaths due to SIDS in 2020 in the U.S. according to CDC data on all sudden infant deaths.

While the overall infant mortality rate reached a record low in 2020, the rate of SIDS “increased significantly from 2019 to 2020,” according to an analysis by CDC researchers published in the medical journal Pediatrics. After a five-year decline, the SIDS rate rose by 15%, to 38.2 deaths per 100,000 babies born in 2020, from 33.3 in 2019, the study found.

To understand if the rise was due to COVID-19 pandemic effects or diagnostic changes, the researchers examined the wider category of sudden unexpected infant death (SUID) rates, which includes SIDS as well as unknown causes, and accidental suffocation and strangulation in bed.

Analysis showed SUID rates declined overall but increased significantly for Black infants in 2020, although the reason was unknown.

The paper said the jump in SIDS was likely because of diagnostic shifts. In 2019, the National Association of Medical Examiners adjusted how sudden infant deaths are classified on death certificates.

There is “no evidence” of a causal relationship between immunizations and SIDS, a CDC spokesperson said by email.

However, because of the association with respiratory infections, vaccination against respiratory illnesses may help to protect against SIDS, the spokesperson said, pointing to American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommendations that say infants should be immunized in line with AAP and CDC guidelines to reduce sleep-related infant deaths.

VERDICT

Misleading. The rate of sudden infant death syndrome in the U.S. rose by 15% in 2020, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) analysis, and there is no evidence that vaccinations increase SIDS deaths.

This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our fact-checking work.

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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