Childhood vaccinations urged
BATON ROUGE — Routine well-child care and vaccinations have declined dramatically during the COVID-19 pandemic, as parents avoid medical services to mitigate the transmission of the coronavirus. In recognition of National Immunization Awareness Month, throughout the month of August, Louisiana Healthcare Connections is encouraging parents to contact their child’s physician to schedule vaccinations for young children — especially those less than two years old — to protect against preventable diseases.
Among children aged 5 months, vaccination rates have declined from approximately two-thirds (66.3%) of children during 2016–19, to fewer than half (49.7%) in May 2020, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The CDC reports similar trends among older children as well, with non-influenza vaccination rates decreasing by 21.5% for children under 18. These decreased immunization rates may be the result of COVID-19 stay-at-home orders, which may have caused parents and caregivers to question the safety of health clinics and the significance of childhood checkups, the CDC reports.
“With lower than normal vaccination coverage among all age groups, children may be at higher risk for vaccine-preventable diseases such as measles, whooping cough, chicken pox and more,” said Stewart Gordon, MD, Chief Medical Officer for Louisiana Healthcare Connections. “Even during these uncertain times, it’s important that we continue to encourage everyone to protect themselves, including getting immunizations to protect children from preventable health complications. For National Immunization Awareness Month, we want to focus on encouraging parents and caregivers to contact their physicians to discuss how to keep their children’s immunizations current.”
In Louisiana, in-person visits remain an option, as hospitals and health clinics across the state have been regularly updating safety procedures to help avoid coronavirus transmission. Throughout the pandemic, healthcare workers have continued to support communities with their health needs using personal protective equipment to safeguard themselves and patients, so parents can feel comfortable in scheduling necessary doctor appointments for their children.
“It is absolutely understandable that parents are concerned about keeping their children safe during this pandemic, but as much as possible, children should be kept to their recommended vaccine schedules,” Gordon explained. “Contact your primary care physician’s office to determine the safest, most convenient way to schedule immunizations for your child.”
To help ease the uncertainty of clinic visits, Gordon encourages parents to take the following safety steps to help the entire family prepare for in-person visits:
—Before scheduling a doctor appointment, call the clinic or check its website to find out what is being done to keep people safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.
—Before the day of the doctor visit, parents may receive a call from the clinic asking about any symptoms of COVID-19 across the family.
—Be sure to follow standard precautions during the doctor visit: wear a face mask, wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use hand sanitizer, and cover mouth while coughing or sneezing with tissue.
—Practice social distancing by maintaining a distance of at least six feet from others (this may be indicated by markings on the floor).
—Avoid contact with frequently touched surfaces such as doorknobs, elevator surfaces, and touchpads. Be mindful of the surfaces young children touch and are in contact with.
For information about Louisiana Healthcare Connections services and benefits, visit www.LouisianaHealthConnect.com.