If there’s one universal emotion that’s creeping through households across the world right now, it’s fear. That’s certainly the case for me. If you’re scared about sending your kids back to school, I get it. If you’re too scared to travel out of state to visit Grandma, I’m right there with you. If you’re not yet ready to open up your home to play dates or dinners with friends, same here.
But there are some risks we cannot take, even if we think we are keeping our kids safe. Even if we are scared. And one of those risks is skipping vaccines and well-visits with our children’s pediatrician. The CDC has issued an alarming report that babies and children across the nation are falling behind on their vaccination schedules during the COVID-19 pandemic. This puts them at risk for other diseases that are equally or potentially more dangerous than the one that’s keeping them home in the first place.
2020 didn’t exactly begin with complete stability when it comes to vaccination rates due to America’s ongoing battle against the incredibly unsafe and misinformed “anti-vaxx” movement. Because anti-vaxxers spread false information and feed unfounded fears, Washington state, for example, has seen recent surges in diseases like the measles. And when the world is scrambling to keep their families from contracting COVID-19, the last thing we need is an outbreak of another disease that we already eradicated.
Now, on top of the anti-vaxxers who blatantly ignore medical science entirely, lots of parents are simply too scared to take their kids to the doctor for routine visits and shots. Or, they’ve been following stay-at-home orders and aren’t leaving the house unless they absolutely have to.
This fear is understandable—lots of us are scared right now. Lots of us are not leaving the house or letting our kids leave the house. But doctors are begging parents to see well-visits and vaccinations as essential. As completely justifiable reasons to go out, and equally important to their children’s well-being as quarantining, hand-washing, social distancing, and wearing a mask.
We have to ensure that our kids are protected from all potentially harmful, contagious diseases. And to do that, we need to ensure they are vaccinated.
CNN Health reports that in Michigan, for example, since the national state of emergency was declared, “the number of non-flu vaccine doses administered to children overall decreased 22%. Vaccine doses in children younger than two years old decreased 16%. Also, fewer than half of five-month-olds were up to date on their vaccines this May. Typically, about two-thirds of them are.”
And the CDC says that this isn’t an issue exclusive to Michigan by any means, reporting that from mid-March to mid-April, doctors in the VFC (Vaccines for Children) program ordered about 2.5 million fewer doses of all routine non-influenza vaccines and 250,000 fewer doses of measles-containing vaccines compared to the same period in 2019.
As a result, doctors are scared. And not just about COVID-19.
“The fact it has dropped so significantly in such a short period of time across the U.S. is really concerning because of the potential for outbreaks,” said Sean T. O’Leary, M.D., M.P.H., FAAP, a member of the AAP Committee on Infectious Diseases.
AAP President Sara “Sally” H. Goza, M.D., FAAP, echoes this sentiment, calling the findings “incredibly worrisome” and urges pediatricians and families to schedule visits to catch up on immunizations and well-checks.
Also, it’s not just vaccines that are addressed and administered during these routine visits. Well-checks ensure that kids are safe and healthy in a myriad of other ways, and without these consultations, children across the nation are more at risk.
“I’m also concerned that children who have missed vaccines have also missed other health care that occurs during those visits, including physical exams, developmental screenings and other important care that should not be delayed,” says Dr. Goza.
So to promote kids getting back on schedule with vaccines and well-checks, pediatricians are taking a variety of steps as we continue to live life in a global pandemic. The American Academy of Pediatrics says such measures include: “Scheduling well and sick visits at different times of the day, physically separating patients in different locations, and rigorously sanitizing their offices.” Also, AAP says it’s important that doctors notify families of the extra steps they’re taking to calm their fears and help them feel more comfortable about coming in to the office.
For extra assurance, Dr. O’Leary wants parents to know that “medical offices are among the safest places you can be right now given the really extensive measures they’ve taken to prevent spread of COVID-19 both to themselves and their patients.” And he reiterates that we should absolutely not be afraid of taking our kids to the doctor.
Because here’s the real scary truth: as states continue to loosen stay-at-home restrictions and we all venture out more and more, our kids will be vulnerable to contagious diseases. “The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is a reminder of the importance of vaccination,” the CDC says. “Reminding parents of the vital need to protect their children against serious vaccine-preventable diseases, even as the COVID-19 pandemic continues, is critical. As social distancing requirements are relaxed, children who are not protected by vaccines will be more vulnerable to diseases such as measles.”
Therefore the CDC, along with pediatricians nationwide, will continue to coordinate efforts between health care providers to achieve much-needed “rapid catch-up vaccination.” But parents need to do their part too, by getting their kids in for their well-checks and shots.
The truth is, there are other dangers to our kids right now besides COVID-19, and we can’t forget that. Dr. Goza encourages us to keep that in mind. “While we wait for scientists and doctors to develop a vaccine for coronavirus,” she says, “let’s work together to protect our children in every way that we can, today.”