Pediatric office visits have declined by half during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Not only are children missing well-child checks, but also the vaccines that are given during these visits. Manufacturers are reporting a decline in vaccine orders and vaccine doses distributed through the Vaccines for Children program.
PointClickCare, a pediatric electronic health records company, gathered data which showed a 50 percent drop in Measles, Mumps and Rubella vaccinations, a 42 percent drop in Diphtheria and Pertussis (whooping cough) vaccinations and a 73 percent drop in Human Papilloma Virus vaccinations during the pandemic. Vaccination rates have fallen abruptly as of mid-March when the national emergency was declared, despite the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) recommendation to prioritize vaccinations for children, particularly those administered to children under the age of 24 months.
Q: Should parents delay or postpone well child visits or vaccinations due to COVID-19?
A: Most pediatric offices have made significant changes to the way they practice to keep their patients safe during this time: enforcing social distancing, screening patients and employees, changing office hours to accommodate well versus sick patients, wearing personal protective equipment such as gowns and masks, and increased cleaning and disinfecting practices. Some pediatric offices are offering telemedicine visits, but vaccines cannot be given during such a visit. We strongly encourage families to have their children seen for well-child visits and vaccines this summer.
Q: Why does a drop in vaccination rates matter?
A: The drop in vaccination rates that we have seen during this pandemic leaves our communities vulnerable to outbreaks in vaccine-preventable and life-threatening illnesses such as Measles, Meningitis, Whooping Cough, and more. While the health of all children is important, these outbreaks put our infants who are too young for vaccines and those with compromised immune systems at even higher risk. In addition, communities of color, immigrant families, children living in crowded environments, and children whose parents work in essential services (healthcare workers, grocery store employees, first-responders, etc.) are at higher risk for these outbreaks in addition to COVID-19.
Q: What should parents do if they have concerns about getting their children vaccinated during the pandemic?
A: Both the CDC and AAP have online resources to help both parents and doctors navigate the challenges that the COVID-19 pandemic has created. Use your pediatrician as a resource for vaccine-specific recommendations and information. While we work to socially distance, minimize time away from home, and protect our loved ones, remember that preventing illness with vaccination is another vital way to keep our communities healthy. There are currently 16 diseases that we can now prevent with vaccines. As stay at home orders are lifted, parents should prioritize theses visits and receive any catch-up vaccines needed as soon as possible this summer.
Suzanne Wallace, MD practices pediatrics at the Simon Williamson Clinic located on the Princeton Baptist Medical Center campus.
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