BY JON O’CONNELL
Pediatricians worry that one pandemic could trigger other preventable public health disasters.
While parents kept their kids at home for the first month of the pandemic, data shows they skipped vaccinations for diseases that we’ve had at our fingertips for decades. Now doctors want parents to catch up.
“The last thing we need is one pandemic to enable and activate a series of additional public health pandemics,” said Dr. Linda Thomas-Hemak, a board-certified pediatrician and president of the Wright Center for Community Health.
She started a crusade last month to remind families to get back on track with vaccinations for bugs like measles, mumps and chickenpox, whooping cough, polio and HPV.
The Wright Center is holding vaccine clinics at its locations in Jermyn, Scranton and Wilkes-Barre on certain days throughout the summer.
With a national emergency declaration in mid-March, vaccine orders for non-influenza and measles doses hit the floor, according to a May 15 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Compared to the same period one year earlier, the Vaccines for Children Program, or VFC, tracked a cumulative drop of around 400,000 of measles vaccines in children up to 18 years old from the beginning of January to mid-April, the CDC report says.
All non-influenza doses dropped by 3 million.
It’s absorbed the world’s attention, but the coronavirus hasn’t replaced other deadly and debilitating diseases, said Dr. Timothy Welby of Pediatrics of Northeastern Pennsylvania in Dickson City.
“They’re still around,” he said. “If you’re worried about coronavirus, you should be worried about all the other things that have been hurting and killing children for years.”
The VFC, a national program that buys vaccines for about half of the kids in the U.S., found vaccination rates were better for children 2 years old and younger, an age group in which staying on schedule is critical.
But the decline in vaccinations snaps neatly in line with the March 13 national emergency declaration.
Both doctors agreed that most parents want to keep their kids healthy, but acknowledged that public health warnings might have led to crossed wires.
Understandably, some parents chose to lock down at home and skip a routine vaccine because they believed that was better than risking catching a mysterious, deadly virus.
“We had never had this type of experience before,” Thomas-Hemak said.
Now the summer lies ahead, and pediatricians urge parents to use the next few months to catch up. After all, a complete vaccination record might not be optional when the school year starts.
“A lot of day cares, and a lot of school districts are going to have to be more vigilant than normal,” Welby said. “If your children aren’t immunized, they aren’t getting back in.”
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