May 19, 2020
By Nicole Keller, DO, FAAP
Unprecedented. Never before seen. First time in known history. These are phrases that we are hearing on a regular basis to describe our world during the COVID-19 pandemic. We are living in a time of unknowns and constant change. While this can be an unsettling thought, I like to try to focus on the positive, the things we do know, the things we have more control over.
As a pediatrician, my job is to help a family raise a child in a healthy and safe way. We focus on healthy habits and lifestyle choices and prevention of illness and injury through regular doctor’s visits. You might be thinking, “of course!”, but here’s the thing: the pandemic has changed things. We’ve been told to stay home. So, I’m here to tell you that your child’s well checks and vaccines are still important and a good reason to leave the house when you’ve otherwise been told to stay put. Let’s talk about why.
Well child checks are whole person evaluations. We check growth, assess development and do a physical exam. This is the time that we look for that pesky “needle in the haystack.” Since the body is growing and changing all the time in childhood, these frequent well checks are truly necessary and important.
The other important part of regular childhood well checks are vaccines. Vaccines are arguably the most important tool of prevention we have to keep kids healthy. From infancy through school age, your child will be recommended to get vaccines to help their body learn how to fight germs before they can cause illness.
Currently, as we look at ways to treat and prevent COVID-19, the preventative vaccines we already have for other diseases have not been given to kids as recommended. Families have skipped or delayed appointments during stay at home orders worried for their health. This has resulted in scary drops in vaccine administration. Early numbers are showing the vaccine given during March and April 2020 dropped by 20 to 40% depending on the vaccine. Yikes!
These drops in vaccine administration are dangerous for a few reasons. First, it means that we are leaving our communities vulnerable to more disease. Pertussis, measles, polio and chicken pox (to name a few) only need small drops in immunity of the general population (herd immunity) to start causing outbreaks. Measles, for example, needs 92 to 95% of people immunized to prevent outbreaks. Coming in for a well check and necessary vaccines helps prevent illness in your child, your family and your community.
Another reason to make sure vaccines are up to date is to make sure you stay as healthy as possible since other germs we can’t protect against (like COVID-19!) can strike at any time. We’ve learned that COVID-19 packs the biggest punch for those fighting other medical conditions. Imagine you get sick with one illness and then are exposed to COVID at the same time. The potential mixture of other illness (like influenza) with COVID could be even more dangerous than one of these illnesses alone. We must take this time to protect our bodies and keep them strong in case of exposure to this novel virus that we don’t yet have good control over.
It is important to continue other safety measures to stay healthy. We wear masks to help protect others from coming into contact with our sneezes and coughs. We ask others to wear masks to protect us. We keep our distance (6 feet!) to not come in contact with small particles that may escape a mask. We have stayed home to protect each other. We wash our hands and avoid touching our face to not spread germs. Now, we need to make sure all our vaccines are up to date to prevent outbreaks of additional illnesses we already have protection against!
If you’re worried, call your doctor’s office to discuss your concerns. All Rush Copley Medical Group practices are taking additional measures to keep offices safe and clean and will make sure your office visit is done in the healthiest manner possible.
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure: come in to get vaccines and check-ups to keep your child healthy. Let’s not let vaccine preventable illness outbreaks become part of the landscape in these otherwise unprecedented times.