According to CMS, routine medical care for low-income children declined sharply during the March to May shutdown – a trend that could cause long-term harm if not reversed. The agency found that vaccinations, screening for childhood diseases, visits to the dentist, and even mental health had plummeted.
Even though school and business activity are slowly returning to normal, healthcare schedules do not show the anticipated uptick after such a shutdown.Records covering 40 million low-income children revealed that vaccinations for children under age two fell by 22% between March and May. Visits to dentists fell by 69%, and time-sensitive screenings for cognitive or developmental problems decreased by 44%. “The fact it has dropped so significantly in such a short period of time across the U.S. is really concerning because of the potential for outbreaks,” said Sean T. O’Leary, M.D., a member of the AAP Committee on Infectious Diseases.1
“Our nurses have been reaching out to families of small children to keep children up to date on vaccines despite the disruptions of COVID-19,” explained Linda Genen, MD, MPH, the CMO of ProgenyHealth. “Immunizations play a key role in protecting our health. Pediatricians are encouraged to use their state’s immunization reporting system to find and contact families behind in their vaccinations. Children need to be up to date with immunizations to attend school and to maintain health during a time when our nation’s medical resources are under stress.”
According to Dr. Jose Romero, a pediatrician and chair of the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, “There’s some reticence of parents to bring their children to the doctor’s office or hospital because they can pick something up.” 2
This fear is unfounded because healthcare providers now have better equipment, protocols, and knowledge to keep their patients and themselves safe compared to the early days of COVID-19.
“Some doctors are splitting their patient population, so that they have ‘well care’ in the morning, and then, in the afternoon, they only do sick patients,” Romero continued.
With flu season approaching, the overlapping symptoms of COVID-19 with the common flu could further disrupt the nation’s health. Children have the highest rates of influenza infection. For this reason, the flu vaccine is recommended for everyone six months and older to reduce the burden of respiratory illnesses during the pandemic, preserve the capacity of the health care infrastructure, and to lessen the confusion and panic if flu symptoms emerge during COVID-19.
Parents and providers can determine if a child is up to date on their immunizations using the CDC’s Vaccination Schedule. For children four months to 18 years old, the tables for the Catchup Schedule include the recommended vaccination schedule and a remedial path to get back on track if the child is behind.
“During a time of increased vaccine skepticism, we need to remind ourselves that vaccination has been one of public health’s greatest success stories,” Dr. Genen explained. “It led to the eradication of smallpox and widespread elimination of polio. Vaccination has protected millions from the ravages of tetanus, whooping cough, and even chickenpox. We owe it to our children and to their future success to maintain healthy families, schools, and communities.”
- Jacqueline Policastro, Gray DC, https://www.nbc12.com/2020/10/01/how-doctors-are-addressing-drop-childhood-vaccinations/ 10-1-2020