Routine Childhood Vaccinations Slipping

Many parents have skipped regular vaccine for their kids because of COVID-19

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

While the eyes of the world have focused on COVID-19 vaccination, some parents have missed their children’s routine vaccination.

During the onset of the pandemic last year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advised delaying all non-emergency visits. Once doctor’s offices reopened for these visits, some parents did not feel comfortable bringing their children in and still others faced long delays as doctors have scrambled to catch up on backlogged well child visits, the appointments when they typically administer these vaccines.

“You still have parents who are hesitant to come in,” said pediatrician Megan Campbell, who practices at Madison Irving Pediatrics Pediatrician in Syracuse. “Parents are delaying these vaccinations.”

She added that parents may bring in their child after they set up an appointment and no one in the household has been in contact with someone sick with COVID-19 or has traveled out of state.

Most facilities encourage only one parent or guardian to come into the office with the patient and require masks for anyone older than two. Normally, vaccines begin at 2 months of age.

The backlogs have decreased at her office and she said that most pediatrician offices are not as busy as they were months ago.

Some parents do not believe that the routine vaccines are necessary because their child is now 10 or older.

“Don’t put it off,” Campbell said. “I’ve had 16-year-olds who are getting their first-year vaccinations. For the most part, there is no age limit.”

Anna Reitz, Oswego County Public Health nurse and immunization coordinator, said that area doctors’ offices and clinics are very safe places to visit.

“They’re doing anything they can to keep people socially distanced and they are disinfecting the rooms,” Reitz said. “We’re all wearing medical face masks and eye protection and require patients to do so as well. We’ve changed our clinic flow. It used to be walk-in. Because we don’t want so many people showing up, we started scheduling. We say call us when you get here and we’ll let you know when we’re ready for you.”

Many of today’s young parents do not know anyone who experienced polio or other vaccine-preventable diseases so they are not aware that these diseases are serious.

“Vaccines are victims of their own success,” Reitz said. “Seniors who lived during a time when polio and other preventable disease were still present readily accept vaccines. They know kids who were paralyzed or walked with a limp from polio. When vaccine is successful, people think ‘I don’t need it anymore.’ Just because it’s not endemic in your community doesn’t mean it can’t be in a very short amount of time.”

Some parents believe that skipping vaccination toughens up their children’s immune systems to become better at warding off disease. The opposite is true. Vaccines work as a “dress rehearsal” to help the immune system respond more robustly when presented with a disease.

“Vaccinations have been one of the single best advancements in medicine,” said Andrew Rogall, family medicine physician at Oswego Health’s PrimeCare Fulton. “Vaccines have been the driving force in eradicating illness and death from disease like measles, polio and rubella.

“Vaccines are effective for primarily two reasons. First, those being vaccinated develop immunity against that pathogen greatly decreasing the risk of severe illness and asymptomatic carrier states. Second, vaccinating a large percentage of the population provides a lower risk of passing those diseases on to those who cannot receive those vaccines for medical reasons.”

He emphasized the safety of vaccines. Of all medication, it represents the most tested. The long-term use of vaccines with rare and minimal side effects point to the safety of vaccines.

Anecdotal evidence of problems caused by vaccines usually arise because of a coincidental event, such as the timing of routine vaccine happens to occur when children are developmentally capable of being diagnosed with autism.

Some parents fear that their young children receiving multiple vaccinations in one or two injections may experience an “overload” of exposure that could unduly tax their immune systems. Simply petting the family dog, crawling across the floor, placing objects in their mouths and many other common interactions expose children to many germs repeatedly all day.

HPV is one of the vaccinations that Andrea Flood, master’s in health education and immunization educator for Onondaga County Health Department, has observed families skipping since like influenza it is not required for school attendance. Administered to children beginning at around age 11 in two doses, HPV prevents certain cancers.

“It isn’t required for school,” she said. “Plus, there are not as many vaccinations at that age. When you’re little, you go to the doctor every so often.”

She said that over the summer, a lot of parents began to assume that if their children would return to school virtually or through a hybrid model that they would not require vaccination.

“We haven’t seen as many vaccinating but whether virtually learning or not, New York State law is that they are still required to vaccinate,” Flood said.

She acknowledged that those without a primary care provider may find it difficult to get vaccinations; however, clinics and some pharmacies are still available for administering vaccinations to school-aged children. Babies and toddlers usually must be seen by a provider.

The rapid spread of COVID-19 should underscore how easy it is for a communicable disease to go global without vaccine or any natural immune response.

“The reason why we haven’t seen these diseases is nearly everyone gets those routine vaccinations,” Flood said. “We do occasionally see it as there are a couple of people who don’t vaccinated and they end up becoming sick. It is so important to get those routine vaccinations.”