The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recently reported a plunge in vaccination rates for children, with numbers suggesting childhood vaccination rated essentially halting from March to April 2020 during the height of coronavirus concerns.
While many families continue to stay home to prevent the spread of COVID-19 until there is a proven, safe and effective vaccine, parents shouldn’t delay seeking health care for their children, particularly routine immunizations.
Current unvaccinated children for vaccine-preventable diseases do not have a higher risk of contracting COVID-19, but they do have a higher risk of contracting other preventable diseases, like meningitis, whooping cough and measles that can potentially lead to worse outcomes. Measles is still spreading globally, with two outbreaks in Washington state last year. Measles is more infectious than the novel coronavirus and young children, pregnant women and immunocompromised children are at an increased risk for complications and have a higher fatality rate.
As a pediatrician who supports children’s overall health, my advice to parents is to not delay health care for your child if you are worried about COVID-19. Aside from vaccine-preventable diseases, delays in care for your child can slow the detection of congenital, or developmental issues, diagnosis of new problems, or treatments for chronic illnesses.
At Virginia Mason, we are doing new things to help put parents’ worries at ease. We are separating well and sick children into different clinics at physically distant locations so that parents and kids who come in for routine care will have decreased likelihood of being exposed to kids who are unwell. We are doing extra sanitizing of each exam room between patients, using personal protective equipment (PPE) for all visits with full PPE for sick visits, masking all patients at the entrance, and making it possible to maintain a six-foot physical distance from other people within the clinic. Patients who are scheduled in the “sick clinic” are asked to wait in their car and they are called when we are ready for them to come in. They are led directly to a clean exam room to avoid possible exposures in waiting rooms and hallways. For visits that do not require in-person care, we offer video visits and have seen a significant increase in this service.
Everyone carries some level of risk for contracting COVID-19. Fortunately for children, most cases of COVID-19 appear to be mild, but there are some children who develop more severe symptoms and complications.
This outbreak has reminded us how important vaccines are, as they help prevent the quick spread of infectious diseases and the horrible consequences that come with an outbreak. When a COVID-19 vaccine is available, it will be important for everyone to stay up to date with the vaccination to achieve herd immunity and avoid a devastating outbreak like we are having now.
Dr. Schneider is board-certified in general pediatrics. He practices at Virginia Mason Bellevue Medical Center, specializing in pediatric and adolescent medicine.