By Kate DeTrempe
STANFORD -- Across the country, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is reporting a decline in vaccination rates as some families are choosing to forgo or delay their children's routine pediatric well-visits during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In fact, in some states, the rate of immunization in children 5 months and younger fell to less than 50 percent between March and May.
Yvonne Maldonado, MD, chief of pediatric infectious diseases at Lucile Packard Children's Hospital Stanford, recently spoke with NPR's Here & Now about the dangerous public health implications of this trend:
"We really want to make sure that children are continuing to receive the required immunizations, because we already have one pandemic, and we would not want to see more infectious disease outbreaks on top of this one. With flu and respiratory virus seasons coming, we do not want to see more children getting sick with other organisms in addition to COVID-19."
On a national scale, Maldonado told NPR that the CDC's Vaccines for Children—a government-funded program providing vaccinations for children who might not otherwise be able to afford them—reported that the number of vaccine doses ordered between late March and mid-April decreased by more than 50 percent.
According to Maldonado, this indicates that the number of children receiving routine, critical vaccinations to prevent measles, pneumococcal disease, Haemophilus influenzae, and other diseases has been significantly reduced, which can be especially dangerous for children under 2 years of age.
"These are all critical vaccines. For example, without vaccination, measles can cause severe disease particularly in young children… It is a highly transmissible virus, so you need to keep the vaccination levels—the herd immunity—between 90 and 95 percent to really prevent outbreaks from happening."
Locally, Stanford Children's Health pediatrician Anita Juvvadi, MD, of Juvvadi Pediatrics, told the San Francisco Chronicle that her patients' vaccines for measles, chicken pox, and hepatitis are down by a third, meaning that these illnesses could spread and spike over the summer. "The last thing we want during a pandemic is an outbreak of something that's totally preventable," Juvvadi said.
Maldonado said that it is important for children to continue receiving vaccinations according to the recommended schedule, rather than delaying appointments during the pandemic.
"Vaccine schedules are done this way for a reason. We are vaccinating children at the ages when they are most susceptible to these diseases, so if we wait, these children may actually wind up getting infected at a time when they are most vulnerable if they haven't received the vaccine."
Doctors' offices around the country have additional safeguards in place to ensure that patients are protected from COVID-19 during their well-visits. Stanford Children's Health clinics are following CDC recommendations, which include increasing cleaning and disinfecting of surfaces, requiring masking for adults and children over age 2, restricting visitor policies, and placing visible reminders about social distancing protocols.
"As health care providers, pediatricians are going to be much more careful than the general public around not only keeping their patients safe, but their staff safe," Maldonado told NPR. "If you are concerned, you can always call your provider to gain an understanding of the precautions that are in place prior to coming to an appointment."
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