So, you've done all the pandemic things. You've figured out your school plan, you've cancelled get-togethers, you've explained to your kids that sorry, Chuck E. Cheese has closed its doors, I know, you're heartbroken too, you tell them, you liar. Anyway, you’ve probably been changing the structure of your children's lives in ways you had never imagined doing before. And if your child has a physical coming up, you’ve wondered whether you should still take them.
A lot of pediatric clinics are, in fact, trying to keep families at home and reschedule certain well child visits. We’re all trying to flatten the curve - the idea being to slow the spread of COVID-19 so that hospitals can keep up with more severe cases, particularly in vulnerable groups like the elderly. And since children can be spreaders of the virus while having relatively mild symptoms, keeping them at home when possible is a part of this important strategy.
But kids still need care, and they need to stay up to date with vaccines. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the CDC consider well child checks for infants who need vaccines to be a priority. Why? In addition to the fact that these visits allow doctors to check on critical health and developmental milestones in the early years, there are several important reasons why vaccines are even more important now than usual.
1. Vaccines may prevent COVID-19 complications.
Some of the complications that lead to death from COVID-19 include pneumonias and sepsis from other bacteria. Vaccines against pneumococcus and Hib, for example, reduce the risk of secondary infection from these bacteria.
2. Vaccines can prevent co-infections.
Influenza is bad. COVID-19 is worse. Getting them both at the same time, such as in this patient, would be worse still. I realize we are getting out of influenza season in the Northern Hemisphere, but you don't want to get COVID-19 and pertussis together or any other preventable disease, either.
3. Vaccines reduce the burden on the medical system.
Vaccines generally reduce the burden on the hospitals and emergency rooms system. For example, hospital admissions from rotavirus decreased dramatically in the years following the widespread use of the vaccine. (I should know, I was a resident in the years leading right up to the vaccine.)
As I mentioned above, the point of social distancing and hygiene is to "flatten the curve," meaning, we know most people will probably get COVID-19 at some point, but if we can slow the rate we catch it, then hospitals can keep up and a lot of lives will be saved. Well, we don’t want people in the hospital with whooping cough, pneumonia or meningitis at all, but even more so when those ICU beds are needed to save the lives of people with COVID-19.
4. Vaccinating now prevents outbreaks down the line.
2019 saw more measles in the United States than in the previous quarter of a century. We don’t want to emerge from this pandemic to find measles running rampant, or any other outbreaks of diseases that we had under wraps. Unfortunately, COVID-19 may be putting everyone in the world at greater risk of these diseases. Global vaccine programs to eradicate diseases like polio and measles have had to be suspended to conserve resources and protect workers, meaning more outbreaks around the world are sure to ensue. Everything we can do to maintain strong immunization rates wherever possible can help on a worldwide level.
Different clinics may have different risk factors to consider and guidelines they are using as to what immunization visits they are seeing and which they are rescheduling. Some clinics may be only seeing kids under two, while others may be starting to see other ages of children who need immunizations (like preschoolers and adolescents) as well. So, the first thing to do is give your child's clinic a call, and see what they recommend. And if they have a plan to get your child in for their vaccine visits, understand that they are doing everything they can to keep your child safe all around.