There is a looming crisis for children in Arizona, but it is not directly from COVID 19. Fortunately, children have largely been spared from the direct severe effects of COVID-19, but many families have delayed or skipped preventative health visits and immunizations for their children during this pandemic. Because of this, Arizona vaccination rates have decreased dramatically over the past two months.
While children are not as vulnerable to COVID-19 as adults, they are much more vulnerable than adults to diseases such as measles and whooping cough which can be prevented by immunizations. In Arizona, our vaccination rates were already dangerously low before the COVID-19 pandemic and now they are so low that we are at grave risk for outbreaks this year, especially if vaccination rates continue to fall.
We cannot wait to vaccinate our children. Many vaccines require multiple doses, spread out over many months before children are fully protected. We know that families want to keep their children safe. However, by delaying scheduled vaccinations because of COVID-19 fears, families are increasing their child’s risk for infections that are a bigger danger to children than COVID-19.
Understandably many families have delayed well child visits and immunizations due to fears of exposing their child to COVID-19. However, the risk of exposure to COVID-19 during a pediatric office visit is very low and pediatricians have taken additional steps to further minimize the risk of exposure so that they can continue to provide pediatric care safely. For example, many have modified their offices to provide for social distancing and changed appointment scheduling so that sick visits and well child/immunization visits are scheduled at different times of the day. Some practices have even started drive-through immunization clinics. Most pediatricians also offer telemedicine which can be an effective way to assess a variety of health problems without an office visit. Many pediatric conditions can be diagnosed and managed via telemedicine including follow-up visits for chronic conditions as well as acute illnesses. While we cannot immunize your child over the phone, many other aspects of the wellness check also can be assessed and managed via telemedicine.
Pediatricians care about your child’s health and well-being and we know that families want to keep their children healthy. While we do not yet have a vaccine to protect your child from COVID-19, we do have vaccines that can prevent them getting many other serious infectious diseases such as meningitis, whooping cough, measles, chicken pox, polio and tetanus by immunization. Call your practitioner to see what options there are for your child to get a wellness check and their vaccinations. Don’t delay, vaccinate.
Mary Ellen Rimsza MD FAAP,
Arizona Chapter American Academy of Pediatrics,