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As physical distancing policies ease up and kids return to daycares, summer camps, and schools, children are at higher risk of catching vaccine-preventable diseases. That is because the number of children receiving routine immunizations nationally has sharply declined due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This should concern everyone. The last thing Texas needs during this ongoing pandemic is a measles outbreak.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that from mid-March to mid-April, doctors ordered approximately 2.5 million fewer vaccines compared to last year. Pediatricians nationwide report a 50% drop in measles vaccines and a 42% drop in whooping cough vaccines, and pediatricians in Austin report a 20-50% decline in local immunizations.
Skipping vaccines can be dangerous.
When we vaccinate kids, we are not only protecting them, but we are also protecting individuals who cannot get vaccinated. Communities in which most people are vaccinated are protected by herd immunity, which prevents the spread of contagious diseases like the measles and whooping cough. Herd immunity protects all people—even those who cannot get vaccinated. As vaccination rates fall, herd immunity is lost and children who are undervaccinated, immunocompromised, or simply too young to receive certain vaccines, become vulnerable to these diseases.
Falling vaccination rates are just one reason to visit your pediatrician. Skipping check-ups can be dangerous too. During the pandemic, some clinics in Houston have reported a 90% decline in well-child visits.
Children who are behind in their well-visits are missing out on comprehensive medical examinations, which among other things include: complete physical exams, hearing and vision checks, developmental screens for things like speech delay, learning disabilities, and autism, routine blood tests for anemia and lead poisoning, and referrals to specialty care and therapies.
Do not skip your child’s check-ups. Even when your child is healthy, they need to see their pediatrician.
Well-child visits ensure that children grow and develop to their full potential, which is particularly important in children younger than 3 years old, who are changing rapidly and especially need their immunizations. For older children, well-child visits are also essential to monitor growth and development and give immunizations. Additionally, since their routines have been disrupted due to the pandemic, they are more susceptible to mental health disorders and need depression and anxiety screening.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has recommendations for pediatricians to optimize children’s health during the pandemic. According to these guidelines, all well-child visits should occur in person. If parents cannot bring their child to clinic and it is clinically appropriate, visits can be conducted via video.
If your child gets sick and you do not know what to do, call your pediatrician. Do not ignore concerns about your child’s health. We will make a plan together to best care for your child.
It is normal to be scared to get COVID-19 if you leave your home. Although we know that physical distancing is an important way to protect your child, there are two other things we know for sure: 1) prioritizing well-visits is the best way to protect your child’s health, and 2) pediatricians’ offices are safe, clean spaces.
Pediatricians have introduced numerous measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in clinics, such as scheduling well-child visits in the morning and sick visits in the afternoon, disinfecting more frequently, screening all workers and visitors for symptoms, providing masks, and implementing video visits when appropriate so fewer patients are in person, allowing for physical distancing.
At our sites, implementing these health and safety measures and prioritizing well-child visits and immunizations is helping maintain well-child visit attendance and effectively counteracting the decreased vaccination rates many are reporting across our state and nation.
As pediatricians, your children’s well-being is our number one priority and we will do everything in our power to keep them healthy. Our clinics are open and safe. We are here for you— do not hesitate to call or visit. Our hands are washed, we have our masks are on, and we are ready to serve your family.