Have you let your child’s immunizations slip?
The state-mandated shutdown in response to the COVID-19 pandemic put a damper on routine medical care, including children’s immunizations.
Seaside Pediatrics in South Yarmouth stayed on top of maintaining scheduled immunizations, said Kathryn M. Rudman, MD, as did most local pediatric offices on Cape Cod. But that has not been the case elsewhere in the nation or around the world. The World Health Organization, UNICEF and two vaccination organizations in late May said the pandemic has hampered immunization efforts in at least 68 countries, with some nations suspending their programs.
“When I talk to my colleagues, many places (in the U.S.) didn’t see many patients at all until recently,” said Dr. Rudman.
Seaside Pediatrics gradually ramped up patient visits over the past three months, starting with the care of newborns, Dr. Rudman said. The office was seeing all types of patients by the beginning of May.
Low vaccination rates raise the risk of outbreaks of diseases such as measles, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The disease strikes children and adults, is very contagious and can be deadly. Last year, there were 1,282 confirmed cases in the 31 states, of which 73 percent were linked to outbreaks in New York. It was the largest number of cases since 1992, according to the CDC.
“Measles vaccine is typically given at a year (of age),” Dr. Rudman said. “If that breaks down, you’re going to see more measles, for sure.”
Within their first year, babies need several vaccinations to keep them safe from diseases, including hepatitis B, diphtheria, tetanus, bacterial meningitis, rotavirus (causes diarrhea), whooping cough (pertussis), polio and a common type of bacterial pneumonia.
After the first year of life, vaccinations continue through age 18, with some earlier ones being repeated and others being added, including those for mumps, HPV, hepatitis A, rubella (German measles) and varicella (chickenpox), according to the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended immunization schedule.
In a May 15 report, the CDC found that the national program that purchases half of the vaccines given to children 18 or younger saw orders for all non-flu vaccines drop sharply after the COVID-19 national emergency was declared in March. The number of vaccine doses for measles administered also fell, particularly for children older than 2.
Pandemic or not, there remains a faction of the population that is opposed to vaccinations. Scientists are working to develop a vaccine for the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, but only half of respondents to a recent poll by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research said they would take the shot.
Despite that, Dr. Rudman remains confident that the majority of people will adhere to public health guidelines.
“We’re always gonna have the anti-vaxxers out there,” she said.
She praised local residents for complying with state orders to stay at home during the shutdown, practice good handwashing and wear masks in public.
“I’m very proud of Cape Codders – we flattened the curve,” Dr. Rudman said.
As state restrictions loosen, she urged residents to keep up their efforts so that COVID-19 cases don’t start rising again. Immunizations for other infectious diseases are also important, as it may give you and your children an edge against the coronavirus, she added.
“It becomes more of an issue when we get into the fall and flu. If you get sick with the flu, then your immune system is down and you’re more vulnerable to COVID.”