On a lazy summer afternoon while pushing my son on the swing outside, I thought of the coming school year.
I ran through the list of things to get done before school started. Suddenly it dawned on me, “We didn’t do his seven-year-old well child visit this year!”
Both my children get their well child visits in April. But with the COVID shutdown, parents and providers cancelled appointments in record numbers. They were never rescheduled.
Why hasn’t my provider contacted me?
I could have been distracted by making dinner, work, and the thousands of other things that are currently occupying my mind. But because of my background in healthcare, I realized this is a problem. A big problem.
Vaccination rates down due to COVID-19
Across the country, vaccination rates plummeted with the COVID-19 pandemic, especially among children over the age of two. Data gathered in the Vaccines for Children Program showed vaccinations fell below 50 percent of pre-pandemic levels in March and April compared to the previous year averages in several states. Washington, D.C, Texas, Maryland, and Pennsylvania were hardest hit.
And from mid-March to mid-April, doctors in the program ordered 2.5 million fewer doses of vaccines and 250,000 fewer doses of measles-containing vaccines as compared with the same period in 2019.
Consequences of delayed vaccines
While my children aren’t due for immunizations, thousands of others are. And when those immunizations are missed, it could mean severe consequences.
Stanford College of Medicine and Baylor College of Medicine published a study in 2017 indicating that a five percent drop in the number of children ages 2 to 11 who received the MMR vaccine would triple the number of annual measles cases in this age group. The MMR vaccine is an inoculation against measles, mumps and rubella.
“We have a tenuous handle on measles disease now. It’s all dependent on very small increments of vaccination,” said Yvonne Maldonado, MD, professor of pediatric infectious diseases at Stanford and an expert on vaccination.
As we anxiously await a vaccine for COVID, perhaps our primary concern should be obtaining the vaccines already available — vaccines for diseases that once ravaged the United States.
HHS expands access to vaccines
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued a ruling August 19, 2020 designed to increase access to vaccines and decrease the risk of vaccine-preventable disease outbreaks. The amendment authorizes state-licensed pharmacists to order and administer vaccines to children ages three through 18 years.
“As a pediatric critical care physician who has treated critically ill children suffering from vaccine preventable diseases, I know first-hand the devastation to the child – and to the family and community – of a death or severe brain damage that could have been avoided by a safe and effective vaccine,” HHS Assistant Secretary for Health Brett P. Giroir, M.D. said, calling vaccines the “cornerstone of public health.”
Patient outreach could improve vaccination rates
When I consider the impending outbreaks of diseases we once had under control, I want to think the problem is temporary. As children return to school in the next few weeks, they will necessarily reschedule those missed visits and catch up on their vaccine schedule. Immunization levels will return to normal, especially with the HHS ruling making access easier.
But, as an increasing number parents are loath to discover, many schools are staying closed.
So I wonder again, why haven’t I heard from my doctor? Even a simple text message could prompt me to schedule an appointment.
A 2019 vaccination campaign launched among 11 WELL clients reached a total of 115,992 patients, and 5,731 responded to ask questions or make appointments. Many providers are in regions imminently at risk for a measles outbreak.
Today this kind of outreach could have measurable effects in preventing new outbreaks on top of our current pandemic.
I’m not waiting for the text message. But for everyone who is, let them know, “Hey, our office is clean, you can wait in your car and not run into any other patients. And your kids really need to get those shots!” ♥