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Vaccinations important during COVID-19 crisis

The Alabama Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AL-AAP) and the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) want to stress to parents and caregivers that, during the current COVID-19 pandemic, it is extremely important to keep children’s vaccines up to date.

On April 15, the American Academy of Pediatrics released guidance calling for continuation of well visits for children, especially those under 2 years of age. In order to prevent disease outbreaks once social distancing orders are lifted, vaccinations must be continued at the recommended intervals. This schedule protects children and families from vaccine-preventable diseases. People who are unvaccinated or have unknown vaccination status represent the vast majority of patients in outbreaks of diseases for which vaccines are available.

Pediatrician and ADPH District Medical Officer Dr. Karen Landers said, “Vaccines have significantly reduced the burden of diseases such as measles, as just one example. Vaccines are one of the most important advances of public health in Alabama as well as the United States. We must continue to have high rates of vaccination, even during this time of social distancing, in order to prevent illnesses, save lives and reduce future outbreaks in Alabama.” 

This week, United Nations health agencies estimated that millions of children could go unvaccinated against measles if parents and providers do not partner to continue vaccinations. Measles is highly contagious and can be a serious illness in all age groups. However, children younger than 5 years of age and adults older than 20 are more likely to suffer from measles complications. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about one out of four people who get measles will be hospitalized; one out of 1,000 people with measles will develop brain swelling (encephalitis) which may lead to brain damage; and one or two out of 1,000 people with measles will die, even with the best care. Two doses of measles vaccine are over 97 percent protective against the disease.

In addition, a Modern Healthcare article this week cited signs that “indicate fewer children may be getting their routine vaccines as individuals and providers practice social distancing.”

Children should be vaccinated according to the recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices as soon as they are in the eligible age group; don’t delay having your babies or toddlers see their doctor. This is another essential way to keep them healthy during COVID-19,” said Wes Stubblefield, M.D., F.A.A.P., a pediatrician in Florence, and president of the AL-AAP. 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, pediatricians across Alabama are strictly adhering to infection control measures to keep children safe, such as:

·        Conducting many visits virtually;

·        Scheduling well visits and sick visits separately;

·        Checking in patients outside of the office and allowing waiting in the parking lot until appointment times;

·        Allowing only one caregiver (under age 65) to accompany a child to the pediatric office; and

·        Cleaning and disinfecting exam rooms between patients.

To assure your children are receiving their vaccinations and other well care on schedule, contact the office of your pediatrician or family physician for guidance on scheduling.