Due to COVID-19, some families have put off routine visits with their primary care providers. Ironically, in attempting to avoid one virus, families are leaving themselves and their children vulnerable to other diseases that can be prevented with vaccinations, well-child visits, and routine medical care.
According to the South Dakota State Department of Health, immunizations among South Dakotans 18 and younger were down by 34 percent in April and 27 percent in May (compared to the same timeframe in 2019). In some age groups, such as 6-year-olds, immunization rates were down by more than half.
While a vaccine to protect from COVID-19 remains in development, there is a long list of other diseases that can be prevented through routine vaccination. Chickenpox, rubella, and mumps are just a few. Some diseases, such as polio, have essentially been eradicated in the US through vaccination. But when vaccination rates drop, outbreaks can and do still occur, such as the 1,282 cases of measles across 31 states last year. We need to keep our children safe from these preventable diseases, which continue to remain dangerous and potentially deadly if contracted.
Which immunizations are needed?
The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention is a great resource for parents to find out which immunizations are needed and when they should be given (visit cdc.gov/vaccines). The CDC’s list of vaccines begins even before your baby is born. According to the CDC website, “By staying up to date with vaccines before and during pregnancy, you can pass along immunity that will help protect your baby from some diseases during their first few months after birth.”
Specific vaccines for infants and toddlers can protect against diseases such as chickenpox, diphtheria, hepatitis, measles, mumps, polio, pneumonia and rotavirus. For ages 3 to 10, the CDC recommends additional doses of several of the same vaccines. Pre-teens and teenagers need additional vaccines to protect them from diseases such as meningitis and human papillomavirus (which causes several cancers, including cervical, penile, anal, and oropharyngeal carcinomas, as well as genital warts), according to the CDC website.
Despite concerns over COVID-19, the best thing you can do right now is make an appointment with your child’s pediatrician or primary care provider. Your provider can also track your child’s growth and development, sleeping patterns, eating habits, and other things needed for a healthy life.
Don’t forget about yourself
You don’t outgrow immunization. For instance, you need a tetanus-diphtheria-pertussis (TDaP) booster every 10 years. You should also be vaccinated against hepatitis A and B, and for certain immunocompromised groups (such as smokers, those with asthma, COPD, or diabetes), you should receive a pneumonia vaccine, even if you are younger than 65. And there’s a new shingles vaccine for all adults over 50, which is safer and much more effective than the old Zostavax. Shingles is extremely painful, and any adult who had the chicken pox as a child is at risk; but it is now completely avoidable. Of course, annual flu shots are as important as ever. While they are often touted as “ineffective” due to seemingly low efficacy rates, there is evidence that those who receive annual flu vaccines are at much lower risk for complications and death related to the flu, should they become infected that year. Their course of illness will also be much shorter and milder, and they are less likely to infect those around them if they have received an annual flu shot.
Safe to see your doctor
Your local medical clinic is probably one of the safest places for you and your child. At Monument Health, for example, all of our caregivers wear face masks and other protective gear. We are also requiring patients and their caregivers to wear masks. We limit the number of people who can accompany a patient during an office visit as well.
Please don’t let COVID-19 prevent you from getting the medical care you and your family need. Someday — soon, we hope — a safe and effective vaccine for COVID-19 will be on your family’s recommended immunization list, and we can all look forward to a day when COVID-19 is a thing of the past. I wish you all a happier and healthier tomorrow!