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DR. BRIDGET GIBSON: A parents’ guide to vaccinations during COVID-19 (column)

Physicians across the country have seen pediatric office visits decline 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 routinely 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 that showed a 50 percent drop in measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccinations, a 42 percent drop in diphtheria and pertussis (whooping cough) vaccinations and a 73 percent drop in human papilloma virus (HPV) 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 physician offices have made significant changes to the way they practice to keep their patients safe during this time, such as 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 offices are offering telemedicine visits, but vaccines cannot be given during such visits. Parents are strongly encouraged 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 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 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 (health care 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 and recommendations to help both parents and doctors navigate the challenges the COVID-19 pandemic has created. 

Use your family’s primary care physician or 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 now have the privilege of preventing with vaccines! As stay-at-home orders are lifted, parents should prioritize these visits and receive any “catch up” vaccines needed as soon as possible this summer.

Dr. Bridget Gibson is a family medicine physician for Brookwood Baptist Health.