Doctors Urge Parents to Keep Well-Child Visits As Vaccination Rates Drop
With lower than normal vaccination coverage, children may be at higher risk for vaccine-preventable diseases such as influenza, measles, whooping cough, chicken pox, and more.
Many parents have pushed back their children’s well-visits during the coronavirus pandemic, subsequently leading to a significant drop in childhood vaccinations that are recommended by most healthcare professionals.
Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows child vaccination efforts nearly came to a halt between March 13, when President Donald Trump declared a national emergency in response to COVID-19, and April 19. Specifically, among children aged five months, vaccination rates have declined from 66.3% from 2016 to 2019 to 49.7% in May 2020. Similar trends are reported among older children, with non-influenza vaccination rates decreasing by 21.5% for children under the age of 18.
“With lower than normal vaccination coverage among all age groups, children may be at higher risk for vaccine-preventable diseases such as influenza, measles, whooping cough, chicken pox, and more,” Sherie Smalley, M.D., chief medical officer at ‘Ohana Health Plan wrote in a July 28 press release, encouraging early childhood vaccinations during the pandemic. “Even during these uncertain times, it’s important that we continue to encourage everyone to protect themselves, including getting immunizations to protect our [children] from preventable health complications.”
Sheldon Berkowitz, M.D., president of the Minnesota chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, said in a recent poll conducted by his organization, pediatricians across the state reported a significant decline in well-child visits, reports the Minnesota Post.
“There is a lot of parental fear and anxiety about bringing their child into the office but the message we are trying to get out there is that our offices are safe, that ill and well children are being separated,” he said. “We’re taking all the needed precautions: masking, gowning, wearing face shields. It is not only important but it is also safe to bring your child in for routine care.”
Berkowitz runs his own clinic at Children’s Hospital in Minneapolis where healthy children in for check-ups are separated from those who are ill.
“Before a patient comes in, the scheduler asks them a series of questions,” he explained. “We ask about fever, cough, other symptoms. We also ask about exposure to COVID. If they respond positively to those questions, it doesn’t mean we don’t see them. We just schedule them to see a clinician who is seeing patients at risk for COVID-19.”
Families that still don’t feel safe can have many aspects of a well-child visit done via telemedicine, said Keith Stelter, M.D., president of the Minnesota Medical Association.
“Maybe they could visit the clinic for a quick, five-minute in-and-out for the vaccinations,” he said. “Or maybe clinics could innovate wildly and offer drive-up vaccines for scheduled families.”
Some states have offered drive-up vaccines. In March, when Massachusetts paused elective care and routine visits so that hospitals could focus on patients with COVID-19, doctors at Boston Medical Center worked with ambulatory services to bring vaccinations to children outside their homes, reports WBUR.
“Children can die of measles. They can die of pertussis. These are not insignificant illnesses that only happen in other countries. They happen in our country,” said Berkowitz. “If people keep not bringing their children in for immunizations, we could start to see a big increase in all of these diseases again.”
New Study: Vaccines Are Safer Than Most Other Modern Medicine
A new study released Monday that spans 20 years and 57 vaccines found vaccines are “remarkably safe” and safer than “almost any other modern medical intervention,” lead author Dr. Daniel Shepshelovich told Business Insider. The researchers at Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center looked at the labels, including safety-related changes, of 57 vaccines that became FDA-approved from 1996 to 2015.
They discovered 58 label modifications among 25 vaccines due to minor safety issues. One of the most common reasons a label was updated was to indicate it shouldn’t be used in certain populations or to note people with an allergy shouldn’t get the vaccine. Only one vaccine was withdrawn for possible safety issues nine months after its approval.
Shepshelovich said the results demonstrate the quality and thoroughness of the FDA-approval and post-marketing surveillance processes.
When similarly studying prescription drugs and medical devices, Shepshelovich said he and his colleagues “came to expect an efficacy vs. risk tradeoff: a drug can help people and save lives but at a cost of potential side effects. With vaccines, almost no significant side effects were identified, which I think is remarkable.”
Shepshelovich described vaccines as “one of the greatest achievements of modern public health” and said the current pandemic is a “frightening reminder of life with contagious infectious diseases without an effective vaccine.”
“I would tell vaccine-hesitant people that the science and the evidence are clearer on vaccine safety than on almost any other modern medical intervention. The benefits are huge. And the risk is very very small,” he said.
Steps to Take Before and During Well-Visits
In its press release, ‘Ohana Health Plan provided these tips for parents who are scheduled to bring their children in for a well-visit:
- Before scheduling an appointment, call the clinic or check its website to find out what is being done to keep patients’ safe
- Follow standard precautions during the doctor visit: wear a face covering, wash hands regularly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use hand sanitizer, and cover mouth or nose while coughing or sneezing
- Practice social distancing by maintaining a distance of at least six feet from others (this may be indicated by markings on the floor)
- Avoid contact with frequently touched surfaces such as doorknobs, elevator surfaces, and touchpads
- Use touchless payment options such as a mobile payment system; if it is not an option, use credit cards, if possible