“We haven’t been to the doctor since COVID started.”
“It was just a checkup; we didn’t need to go to it.”
“We are trying to avoid going to the doctor unless it is really important.”
I have taken care of many children and their families who have postponed checkups due to fear of catching COVID-19 if they go to their doctor’s office. These patients have missed or been delayed in obtaining different types of essential health care, including lack of follow up for congenital heart disease, missed well-child visits that could have detected developmental delays earlier, and missed well-child visits that cause children to fall behind on their vaccines.
While any delay to care is significant to address, I am going to focus on the consequences of missing vaccinations in a time when we are grappling with how to control a disease that can cause death and significant complications. Most of the conversations that I have had about postponing health care services have been with families who have a child younger than 24 months of age, which worries me since children in this age range are recommended to have many different vaccines that are all essential.
Research has shown that vaccination rates have significantly decreased since mid-March when COVID-19 was declared a national emergency. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention collected data through the Vaccines for Children program. This data showed that doctors ordered about 2.5 million fewer doses of routine non-influenza vaccines from mid-March to mid-April 2020. Also worrisome is that doctors ordered 250,000 fewer doses of measles-containing vaccines during this time frame compared to the same time period in 2019.
Measles is one of the most contagious diseases. It is spread by contact; for example, touching someone’s hand after they cough into it, and airborne spread – when a person with measles coughs, sneezes, or breathes. If ten people are in close contact with a person with measles, 9 of the ten people will develop measles. Children younger than five years of age are more likely to have complications from measles, including brain inflammation, called encephalitis, and pneumonia. This is why it is crucial for children to be vaccinated against measles.
If children are missing vaccines, then we could be putting our children and communities at an increased risk of outbreaks of serious illnesses, as schools, daycares, parks, and other locations reopen. COVID-19 has reminded us what happens when a disease is contagious, causes significant illness, and we do not have a vaccine to help prevent the illness. We must do everything we can to keep our children from developing severe and preventable illnesses.
As a pediatrician, I am asking you to please call your child’s pediatrician. Checkups and vaccines are really important.
Maria Rozo is a pediatrician.
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