As the COVID-19 crisis wears on, public-health alarms across the country are going off about a related drop in vaccination rates for other diseases. Clinicians and public-health officials report that many parents have put off children’s medical appointments due to coronavirus.
But those decisions made out of caution actually could do more harm than good. Parents should instead seek these essential vaccinations for their children.
The problem is dire. Washington Department of Health statistics show that in April’s preliminary totals, patients under 18 received 101,611 vaccine doses, a 42% decline from 175,817 vaccinations in an average of April totals from 2015-19. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found national vaccine orders from the federal stockpile began to drop off in January, when coronavirus was first detected in the U.S. By April 19, the program had filled about 3 million fewer non-flu vaccine orders than during the same time in 2019.
This trend could have tragic consequences. Society’s health depends on the herd immunity created when nearly all a population is fully vaccinated. Right here in Washington, 71 cases of measles were confirmed in Clark County in a 2018-19 outbreak; the vast majority lacked full immunization. More than 800 children missed school for weeks until the risk abated.
While social-distancing guidelines are important, causing delays in crucial childhood vaccinations was never the intention.
“I think a message got lost along the way that vaccination, especially in kids age 2 and under, actually counts as one of the things that we want kids to keep doing,” said John Dunn, a pediatrician and the medical director for preventive care at Kaiser Permanente.
Parents’ reluctance to bring children into doctors’ offices is understandable. Fears of contagion remain great. Government officials have repeatedly said to avoid inessential trips into public places. But preventive care for children — general well-child checkups and especially scheduled vaccinations — remains a top priority. This is increasingly true as stay-home orders begin to roll back and people begin to congregate again.
Parents should delay no longer. Clinics are open, and safely so.
At Kaiser Permanente clinics, parents and children can await appointments in their cars rather than sit in public waiting rooms. Other medical providers have developed similar strategies to keep healthy patients away from sick people. State government distributed an extensive list of clinical instructions for safe vaccinations during COVID-19, as has the CDC.
Government health officials should work further to extend this outreach to remind parents of the urgent need for full vaccination. Doctors anticipate a surge of demand when society reopens. However, their services are available — and much-needed — right now.
Vaccinations cannot wait.