The rules of quarantine and the call for social distancing for the coronavirus have made us many families wary of even leaving the house. Right now, this is a good thing. Epidemiologists and public health experts across the country agree that staying home and social distancing are the most effective ways to save lives. There are, however, exceptions. Take a wellness visit to the pediatrician. Many parents are afraid they or their child will pick up the coronavirus from a sick kid at the pediatrician’s office and are therefore skipping wellness visits — and necessary vaccinations. If this continues, the trend could plant the seeds for the next health crisis.
President Trump declared a national emergency in response to COVID-19 on March 13 and one week later, vaccinations faced their first major drop, according to the CDC. Compared to February 16, vaccinations during the week ending April 5 dropped 42 percent for diphtheria and whooping cough, 50 percent for measles, mumps, and rubella, and 73 percent for HPV, the New York Times reported using data from PCC, a pediatrics software company.
The fear of the doctor’s office is overblown. Health clinics are taking far-reaching precautions to keep kids and parents safe. Some require families to call ahead before coming in so they don’t have to spend time in the waiting room. Many schedule well-visits for the morning and reserve the afternoons for sick kids. Some even designate entire buildings for healthy children only. For vaccinations, pediatricians may not even require you to come into the office. Some are performing home visits while others are offering drive-by vaccinations in parking lots where you don’t have to leave your car.
There’s another good reason the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention both recommend that children continue to get routine vaccinations during the pandemic — preventable diseases such as measles, mumps, and whooping cough are a bigger threat to kids than COVID-19. For children born between 1994 and 2018, immunizations will prevent about 419 million illnesses, 8 million hospitalizations, and 936,000 early deaths, according to the CDC.
The American Academy of Pediatrics warns that delaying vaccinations could result in outbreaks of these vaccine-preventable diseases. While these outbreaks may not have been likely while children were kept at home social distancing, according to WBEZ, the likelihood could increase as the U.S. begins to open up. Outbreaks become a possibility when the number of people vaccinated in a community dips below a certain threshold, usually below about 90 to 95 percent, according to the Times.
In other words, parents should schedule a well-visit as soon as their child reaches the recommended age for a particular shot. Period. Even if you’re trying to protect your kid from COVID-19, keeping them from immunizations puts them and your community at risk.