It’s yet another way to take a historically difficult time and make it exponentially worse.
“The last thing we want as the collateral damage of Covid-19 are outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases, which we will almost certainly see if there continues to be a drop in vaccine uptake,” Dr. Sean T. O’Leary, a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ committee on infectious diseases, told The New York Times.
Pediatricians say the problem is manageable in this area so far, even though immunizations are down somewhat. With encouragement and education of worried parents, they think they can catch up. It will be important to make that happen.
Even before the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, vaccination rates were declining in the face of false information suggesting that some vaccinations are related to autism. Now, as parents, not unreasonably, fear taking their infants out of the house, those rates are climbing to levels that professionals in some parts of the country describe as alarming.
Anecdotal evidence suggests they are right.
Based on information gathered by PCC, a pediatric electronic health records company, vaccinations have declined sharply. Using the week of Feb. 16 as a pre-coronavirus baseline, the company found that during the week of April 5, the administration of measles, mumps and rubella shots dropped by 50%; diphtheria and whooping cough shots fell by 42%; and HPV vaccines plummeted by 73%.
Measles, a potentially fatal disease, has already been making a comeback, as adults buy into misinformation about the vaccination. Last year, before the arrival of Covid-19, the state of Washington saw its biggest outbreak of that preventable disease in 30 years. It’s important not to let rates of compliance deteriorate, but that will require planning and education.
Some places are finding ways to make a difference. In Barre, Mass., a doctor made a house call to administer a two-month vaccination. The baby – and the infant’s mother – burst into tears.
In Norwalk, Conn. Dr. Jeanne M. Marconi merely expanded her long-standing practice of offering flu clinics in parking lots. Now, she is offering drive-up vaccinations by gowned and masked health care workers. “We’re trying to alleviate all of the fears they have and keep up with the care,” Marconi said.
In Erie County, Dr. Colleen Mattimore thinks that circumstances aren’t too bad and that anyone falling behind on immunizations for their children will be safely able to catch up.
Mattimore, of Western New York Pediatrics in Orchard Park, said she believes most parents are keeping up with immunizations, especially infants and toddlers. It should be reassuring to parents, she said, that most doctors are following the recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics. For example, she said, patients can wait in their cars until it is time to see a physician.
“We’re trying to mitigate the risk,” she said and, with education, she believes parents can be reassured of their child’s safety.
Similarly, Dr. Dennis Kuo of Oishei Children’s Hospital believes that while immunizations have fallen off in recent weeks, once parents understand that they can safely bring their children in, the problem will be resolved before matters can deteriorate.
If if were to become worse, one pandemic could give rise to another. That can’t be allowed to happen.
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