For families across Kentucky, August typically means baseball and softball games, camping trips and the winding down of summer vacation as students prepare to head back to school. However, with most school districts implementing online instruction in response to COVID-19, and many colleges following suit, this August feels a bit different for us all.
Despite these changes, some parts of our back-to-school routines will remain the same. While parents may not be buying new backpacks or school uniforms, they still need to ensure their children are up to date on their immunizations, even if they will not be seeing the inside of a classroom.
Vaccines are important for kids of all ages, from preschool and kindergarten, to high school and college. Although there is currently no vaccine for COVID-19, we do have immunizations to protect our children against other highly contagious and potentially fatal conditions, such as meningitis, HPV, influenza, chicken pox, measles, polio and more.
Data from recent months indicates that many parents have been delaying or forgoing their children’s well visits because of the pandemic, causing them to miss important immunizations. The CDC reported a 21.5 percent decrease in non-influenza vaccination rates for children under 18 between January and April 2020, compared with the same time frame in 2018 and 2019.
Here in Kentucky, just 4,219 children between ages 4 and 6 were immunized this April, compared to 18,394 in April 2019, according to data compiled by the Cabinet for Health and Family Services.
Like all other essential services, your child’s physician, whether it be a family physician or pediatrician, has implemented new safety measures and protocols to protect patients visiting the office: staggering appointments, closing waiting rooms and registration areas, cleaning and sanitizing more frequently and checking on patients over the phone, to name a few.
The risk of contracting COVID-19 at a physician’s office is low, and parents should not delay important routine checkups. Now more than ever, we should be doing everything we can to protect our children’s health. Vaccines are an essential part of the equation.
There is never a good time for a vaccine-preventable outbreak, but we would be particularly ill-equipped to deal with one while combating another disease for which there is no immunization or cure. However, this could easily be our reality if parents continue to put child wellness visits on hold.
Just as we all have a role to play in stopping the spread of COVID-19, we must also do our part to minimize the potential of other serious outbreaks. That means continuing to follow the checkup and immunization schedule recommended by the CDC.
No matter what back-to-school looks like for you and your family this year, be sure to keep your child’s doctor appointment on the calendar.
Dr. Patty Swiney is a physician and owner of DirectCare Family Health in Paris. She serves as a Co-Chair for the Kentucky Academy of Family Physicians.