As the coronavirus pandemic upends daily life all across the country, families must continue to follow public health recommendations by staying at home and limiting contact with others whenever possible. But an unintended negative consequence of the pandemic is the news that up to 80 percent of American children are not visiting their pediatricians’ offices right now and are missing out on routine well-child visits that include important developmental screenings and vaccinations. As the mother of a spirited 18-month old, I know firsthand how stressful this tension is – wanting to maintain social distance rules and limit contact, particularly in a health care setting, but also feeling concerned about the repercussions of my daughter missing out on regular check-ups with her pediatrician or falling behind on the vaccination schedule.
Routine well-child visits are needed now more than ever. As Dr. Sally Goza, a practicing pediatrician and president of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), explains, “It’s critical for parents to realize that we need those exams done…we know there is a lot going on and regular issues still crop up, whether we have a pandemic or not.” AAP strongly supports continued health care for children, including in-person well-child visits when possible and virtual visits through telehealth when necessary.
Amid the pandemic, vaccines are still critical in order to prevent further health concerns. Vaccines save lives and protect against long-term health consequences. From 1994 to 2016, childhood immunizations prevented an estimated 281 million child illnesses, 855,000 child deaths, and nearly $1.65 trillion in health care costs. But the number of vaccines administered dropped by at least 40 percent between February and April of this year. Dr. Goza explains the concerns surrounding the current decline in immunizations: “If our vaccination rates drop, then we are at risk to have another measles outbreak or a whooping cough outbreak. Or if it’s a young child that doesn’t get their meningitis vaccine, they could get meningitis, which we haven’t seen much in many years.” Vaccines are critical even and especially now in order to keep children safe from preventable diseases and prevent the added crisis of a preventable outbreak amid the ongoing pandemic.
The challenges and choices parents have to make each and every day during this pandemic are certainly not easy. As you’re trying to determine what is best for you and your family, you can read more about the impacts of COVID-19 on child health care here and from our friends at the AAP. CDF’s COVID-19 Resource Hub also has a wide range of resources including information about health insurance options, self-care, and about how to talk to your children about the pandemic.