By Dr. John Dunn, Kaiser Permanente
About a month ago, as public-health experts sounded the alarm about COVID-19, the advice went out to cancel all physician visits that weren’t urgent or critical. But that advice came at a time when we weren’t yet aware of how long the crisis would last and what options we would develop to keep patients and health-care workers safe.
When it comes to childhood vaccines, the advice has been updated: Please stay up-to-date on your child’s immunizations.
What we’re seeing with immunization rates is concerning. Experts across the nation are seeing drops in immunization rates of as much as 73 percent. That means that nearly 3 in 4 children who are due for a vaccination aren’t getting it. Particularly following Washington’s measles outbreak last year, this is very bad news.
Failing to immunize your child on schedule does create risks. Each of the immunizations recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is carefully considered for necessity and timing. Delays to the scheduled vaccinations means your child can be susceptible to diseases or in the case of booster shots that the resistance to the disease could wane. Epidemiologists are looking at the current reduction of immunizations as a warning sign that we could see outbreaks of measles and other diseases.
Some parents are planning to wait until social-distancing requirements are eased before coming in with their child for shots. The problem with that is our system’s capacity. Once restrictions are eased, we can expect a huge rush to get missed shots. And if that happens during the summer, this would coincide with our usual summer rush of students needing updated immunizations for school and college. This could mean the appointment you’re hoping to get for summer might not happen quickly.
The good news is that our area’s health-care providers are getting inventive to keep patients and health-care workers safe. At Kaiser Permanente, we have begun having patients wait in their cars until it’s time to be escorted into the medical center and straight to an exam room. Other providers have found ways to minimize contact, too. Rest assured that as a health professional, my goal is to ensure these vaccination visits are safe.
Right now, we’re all focused on COVID-19 and the sprint to get a vaccine for the virus. Yet, we can’t lose sight of the other diseases we have worked so hard to eliminate or reduce, from meningitis to mumps. Each of us as parents can help keep our communities safe and healthy by stepping up and making sure our children are vaccinated on time. If you’re not sure about vaccinations in this era, give your health-care provider a call.
Dr. John Dunn is a pediatrician and medical director for preventive care at Kaiser Permanente Washington.