The Importance of Childhood and Adolescent Immunization During the COVID-19 Pandemic
By: Dr. Derek J. Robinson, M.D., MBA, FACEP, CHCQM, Vice President and Chief Medical Officer, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois (BCBSIL)
In many regards, our public health officials and health care community have done an excellent job in informing the public regarding what is known about COVID-19 and the importance of preventing the spread of this infection. In fact, many Americans watch news reports of the valiant battles for survival and recovery waged in our health care settings each day. Consequently, many Americans are skeptical of whether they can safely seek routine and emergency care as pandemic rules relax and clinical services resume. During a recent call with my mother, she asked me if it was safe to keep her mammogram appointment and I encouraged her to do so. Beyond anecdotes, data is showing a pattern that is concerning, but probably not surprising, to health care providers. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is reporting, “declines in outpatient pediatric visits have resulted in fewer vaccine doses being administered, leaving children at-risk for vaccine-preventable diseases, including measles and whooping cough.”1
According to Healthline, more than half of the children in the U.S. may be missing scheduled vaccinations due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Dr. Sara Goza, President of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), told Healthline that educating parents during the pandemic is critical. “We’ve done a really good job of explaining why people should stay home. We can do better explaining when it is OK to go out.” Dr. Goza emphasized the importance of helping parents understand that not keeping up with proper required vaccinations will result in a lowered state of immunity in their children.2
A CDC report notes that, in Illinois, 2.8% of kindergartners were not up-to-date with the measles vaccine and did not have an exemption in the 2018-19 school year. It appears that both religious and non-religious exemptions have been climbing in Illinois.3 The coronavirus pandemic has presented added challenges when it comes to appropriately vaccinating children. “As social distancing requirements are relaxed, children who are not protected by vaccines will be more vulnerable to diseases such as measles. In response, continued coordinated efforts between health care providers and public health officials at the local, state, and federal levels will be necessary to achieve rapid catch-up vaccination.”4
The reality is that we must consider the possibility of having to confront other epidemics in addition to the existing coronavirus pandemic. As part of the health care team, physicians, nurses and other health care practitioners play a vital role in educating parents on vaccinating their children. Please join us in special outreach efforts to parents of children aged 0 to 2 years and adolescents aged 9 to 13 years regarding the importance of getting all scheduled childhood immunizations. Below are a few tips you may choose to apply:
- Call the parents and remind them about their child’s upcoming immunization.
- Encourage parents to keep their child’s immunization record up-to-date.
- Communicate with parents about the preventive health benefits of age-appropriate childhood immunization.
- Discuss your office precautions during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Schedule well child visits in the morning and sick visits in the afternoon.5
- Separate well child visits and sick visits in different areas of the clinic.6
- Allow the parents to express their concerns. What’s preventing them from getting their child vaccinated?
For more information on recommended immunization schedules for children and adolescents, review the Preventive Care Guidelines on our Provider website. Also refer to the CDC’s recommendations on immunization practices.7
1,5,6,7 CDC, Information for Pediatric Healthcare Providers. Updated May 15, 2020. Accessed May 20, 2020, at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/pediatric-hcp.html.
2 McCarthy, Moira. COVID-19 Is Causing A Reduction in Child Vaccinations. Healthline, May 3, 2020. Accessed May 20, 2020, at https://www.healthline.com/health-news/covid19-causing-decrease-in-child-vaccinations.
3 Seither R, Loretan C, Driver K, Mellerson JL, Knighton CL, Black CL. Vaccination Coverage with Selected Vaccines and Exemption Rates Among Children in Kindergarten – United States, 2018–19 School Year. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2019;68:905–912. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm6841e1.
4 Santoli JM, Lindley MC, DeSilva MB, et al. Effects of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Routine Pediatric Vaccine Ordering and Administration – United States, 2020. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2020;69:591–593. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm6919e2.
The above material is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for the independent medical judgment of a physician or other health care provider. Physicians and other health care providers are encouraged to use their own medic judgment based upon all available information and the condition of the patient in determining the appropriate course of treatment. The fact that a service or treatment is described in this material is not a guarantee that the service or treatment is a covered benefit and members should refer to their certificate of coverage for more details, including benefits, limitations and exclusions. Regardless of benefits, the final decision about any service or treatment is between the member and their health care provider.