Routine Vaccinations, Wellness Visits for Babies and Kids During the Coronavirus Pandemic
If you have kids, you might be thinking twice about taking them to the doctor’s office to get their shots these days. Vaccines may seem less important now that the world is dealing with COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus that’s led to the current pandemic.
But experts at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center urge you to think again. Though COVID-19 is dominating the news, protecting your child from other infectious diseases is more important now than ever. Pediatricians Barry Solomon, M.D., M.P.H., and Rachel Thornton, M.D., Ph.D., answer your questions and address your concerns.
Could my child catch the coronavirus at the doctor’s office?
It’s understandable that parents want to keep children safe, and your doctor does, too. Doctors’ offices, urgent care centers and hospitals are taking steps to clean and disinfect carefully. Care providers are keeping any patients with possible infections separated from other patients.
“At Johns Hopkins, we are screening patients for symptoms of illness in advance of in-person visits. We are also scheduling in-person visits for preventive care and vaccines early in the day before any visits for acute illness,” Thornton says.
Most cases of coronavirus in babies and kids are mild. Because the worst effects of COVID-19 have largely spared children, most patients seen by your pediatrician have common health issues such as asthma and rashes.
If you have concerns, call your child’s doctor’s office and talk to the staff to determine if an in-person visit is necessary. Ask about their policy for wearing masks when you and your children visit the office. It’s OK to ask what methods your doctor’s team have in place to protect you and your child.
At Johns Hopkins Medicine, all patients and visitors are screened for COVID-19 when they enter a care location. This includes a quick health assessment, and children and their parents or caregivers are provided a mask if they don’t have one. Children under age 3 are offered a mask but are not required to wear one.
Can I delay vaccinations for my baby or child until the coronavirus pandemic is over?
Childhood vaccinations are part of essential health care services. Routine baby and childhood vaccines prevent illness, lasting health problems and even death Most pediatricians’ offices have set up a schedule for shots, based on when they are most effective for babies and children, so it’s important to follow this plan.
“While COVID-19 is scary, what we know so far is that if a child contracts it, it tends to be mild. In general, the illnesses prevented by routine vaccinations are a greater threat to your baby or child. And we do have safe, effective vaccines to prevent these illnesses, such as measles or pertussis,” says Thornton. “That’s why it’s so important to stay up-to-date with your child’s immunizations.”
Baby and child vaccines prevent:
- Mumps. Infections from mumps can cause potentially fatal inflammation of the brain (encephalitis) or the covering of the brain and spinal cord (meningitis). Mumps can cause hearing or fertility problems later on.
- Measles. Much more contagious than COVID-19, measles can result in pneumonia, encephalitis and other complications requiring hospital care.
- Whooping cough (pertussis). Whooping cough is particularly deadly for babies. About half of infants infected with pertussis require hospital care.
- Flu and its complications. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 80,000 Americans, including 169 children, died in 2019 from flu-related illness. Children in particular are vulnerable to some strains of the flu.
Should I delay routine checkups for my baby or child?
Your pediatrician is your partner in maintaining your child’s health. But unfortunately, since the pandemic began, fewer parents are taking their children to the doctor. Noting this trend, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) stresses that routine baby and child checkups are still essential — especially in-person visits and vaccines for children age 24 months and younger.
The AAP says babies and children need to see the doctor in person for physical exams; testing (including laboratory testing); hearing, vision and oral health screening; fluoride varnish and immunizations.
For other kids’ health concerns, a telemedicine visit may be appropriate. Ask your doctor if this service is available.
What should I do if my baby or child seems sick?
Babies and children are still getting stomach aches, rashes, behavioral and emotional concerns, allergies and other things that aren’t due to the coronavirus. Contact your doctor and discuss any health problem affecting your child.
If you are concerned that your child has COVID-19, call your child’s doctor first and describe the symptoms. Your doctor will recommend what to do.
Protecting Children in Case COVID-19 Cases Increase in the Fall
Although there is no vaccine yet for SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, doctors and scientists are working to develop one. Experts are also discussing the possibility of a resurgence of COVID-19 in the autumn and winter months.
Solomon says, “In Maryland, the COVID-19 pandemic started as flu season was ending, so there wasn’t a lot of overlap between those two illnesses. But, this fall could be different if there would be an outbreak of the flu or whooping cough. When respiratory virus season picks up as kids return to school, it may be even more anxiety-producing for parents to bring children to the doctor’s office. That’s why it’s important to make sure your child’s vaccinations are up-to-date.”
A resurgence of the coronavirus in the fall, with an outbreak of disease such as flu, measles or pertussis at the same time, could endanger many lives, including those of children. If health care facilities became overwhelmed, access to care could be limited.
“This is why it is so important to make sure your child receives all of the age-appropriate vaccines. Having a fully vaccinated population is what prevents outbreaks of vaccine preventable diseases like measles and pertussis,” Thornton says.
Where can I go for shots?
Your family doctor or pediatrician is your partner in protecting your children’s health. “The pediatrician’s office is your best point of contact,” says Solomon. “For parents who don’t have insurance or transportation available, the doctor or office manager can direct you toward help.”
Thornton adds, “Most children in the U.S. and particularly in Maryland are eligible for health insurance, either through their parents’ commercial plan, or through public sources like Medicaid and S-CHIP.”
Solomon emphasizes that doctors who care for children consider vaccines essential and continue to make them a priority. He encourages parents to call and schedule appointments.
“Your doctor’s office hours may have changed, but they should be open and ready to help you protect your child,” he says.
What you need to know from Johns Hopkins Medicine.
Posted May 15, 2020