Amid the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak, pediatricians across the U.S. are seeing an estimated 70-80% fewer patients than usual—which means that many children may be falling behind on scheduled vaccinations. Elizabeth B. Murray, DO, MBA, a board-certified pediatrician and pediatric emergency medicine physician in Rochester, New York, explains why skipping vaccinations is risky and what parents need to know to keep kids safe.
Falling behind on vaccinations puts kids at risk
Because vaccinations must be given in a specific sequence, falling behind can make it more challenging to catch up and ensure that kids receive needed doses on time.
Children who aren’t vaccinated run the risk of contracting preventable—and serious—illnesses such as measles, mumps, and whooping cough.
Dr. Murray emphasizes that while these diseases are no longer common in the U.S. due to widespread vaccination, they have not been eradicated. “If we start to see the number of unvaccinated kids rise on a large scale, there’s absolutely a risk of these diseases making a comeback,” she says.
Kids need regular wellness checkups
Receiving vaccinations on time isn’t the only reason that wellness checkups are so important for kids. Because young children grow and develop so quickly, it’s essential that they receive regular physician evaluations to determine whether they’re achieving milestones on time.
In addition to assessing young patients’ growth, sight and hearing, physicians use these appointments to evaluate social and emotional wellbeing—and to check in with parents and caregivers to be sure the family isn’t in need of additional support services.
It is safe for children to go to the doctor
COVID-19 has prompted many practices and hospitals to change their usual processes—for example, creating separate waiting rooms for patients who are ill and those who are healthy. However, Dr. Murray points out, for pediatricians and family medicine physicians, this type of planning is nothing new.
“Pediatric practices are similar to emergency rooms in that they’ve always been prepared to care for kids who are well and kids who are sick,” she says. “I’m taking my own kids in for their checkups and scheduled vaccinations soon, and I have complete faith that everything will be done in a safe manner.”
If you have questions about the precautions being taken where your child receives care, Dr. Murray suggests contacting the office directly. “I can’t stress enough that pediatricians and family practice doctors want to hear from families—they want to talk through any questions and concerns you have, and they want to hear how you’re doing,” she says. “Talking to your pediatrician is always the right choice.”
Don’t hesitate to take kids for emergency care if needed
In the event of a non-911-level emergency, such as a child who has been vomiting all day, Dr. Murray recommends checking in first with your pediatrician, as they may be able to provide guidance over the phone or via an office visit instead.
If your child needs to visit an urgent care center or the emergency room, Dr. Murray emphasizes, it’s still safe to do so, though it may be worth contacting the facility where you plan to take your child to be sure they’re still treating children. However you decide to proceed, Dr. Murray stresses that emergency illnesses and injuries should not be treated at home.
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