Child immunization rates are dropping during the pandemic, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and pediatricians want parents to know that immunizations can still be done during the pandemic.
This week the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a new report showing how child vaccination rates have dropped by as much as 22% in Michigan, and this comes after a previous report showing a significant national decline.
Dr. Sally Goza is the president of the American Academy of Pediatrics and worries that babies and children will be vulnerable to diseases like measles, meningitis and whooping cough if parents skip appointments because they fear COVID-19.
"Immunizing infants, children and adolescents is important, and should not be delayed. I'm also concerned that children who have missed vaccines, have also missed other health care that occurs during those visits, including physical exams, developmental screenings, and other important care that should not be delayed," Goza explains in a statement.
She continues: "We know parents are worried. We want to reassure all our families that pediatricians have innovated ways to make visits even safer, including setting different hours or locations for well and sick children, rigorous sanitation and cleaning practices, and conducting portions of visits by telehealth."
Goza's concerns are specific to the coronavirus pandemic, but echo a sentiment America's top doctors expressed back in 2019: The conversation about vaccination in America needs an injection of empathy.
Parents should not be vilified for skipping appointments, whether they are missing them because they are concerned about their children catching COVID-19 or because they are worried about vaccines in general and have not yet had their concerns adequately addressed.
As Assistant Secretary for Health, Admiral Brett P. Giroir, U.S. Surgeon General Vice Admiral Jerome M. Adams, CDC Director Dr. Robert R. Redfield told Motherly pre-pandemic, the conversation about vaccination in America needs an injection of empathy.
"It's important that we continue to recognize that a lot of folks out there who aren't getting their children vaccinated simply need to have their questions answered in a compassionate manner, and in a manner without pressure," VADM Adams told Motherly in 2019. "We don't want to demonize folks. Everyone just wants to do what's best for their children in their eyes. We've got to continue to do a good job of engaging those folks, not saying you're a bad mom because you chose to spread out the schedule, but saying, look, here is the evidence...And here's all the information out there that shows that this not only effective but safe for your child."
We know that the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine is very safe, and that the 1998 research of former doctor Andrew Wakefield linking vaccines to Autism has been debunked repeatedly, but the vaccine hesitancy it created is ongoing and has been described as the World Health Organization as a threat to global health.
Pediatricians and public health experts don't want to return to the pre-vaccine days, where hundreds of American kids died from measles every year. As COVID-19 puts a strain on the American health care system Dr. Goza is hoping to prevent a resurgence of other diseases that can have serious consequences by advocating for vaccination during the age of social distancing.
"As a pediatrician, this is incredibly worrisome," says Dr. Goza. I remember treating children with these diseases as recently as the 1980s, and we do not want to return to a time when parents had to worry their infant could die of meningitis – especially when we have a vaccine to prevent it. The COVID-19 pandemic is giving all of us a real-time education in what this vulnerability feels like. Fortunately, we have vaccines to protect children and teens against 16 different diseases."
Goza and her colleagues don't want to see children and parents suffering, but they understand the incredible impact misinformation about vaccines has had and want to assure parents these vaccines are safe and there is no benefit to spreading out vaccinations or doing a delayed schedule.
"Missing or delaying vaccinations leaves children vulnerable for serious illnesses for longer than necessary," VADM Adams told Motherly. "We've got to get that word out, we've got to get the word out that vaccines do not overload the immune system. And that even if the child gets several vaccines in one day, it is a tiny, tiny fraction of the many germs that children are exposed to throughout the day."
The CDC recommends children get the first dose of MMR vaccine at 12 to 15 months of age and a second dose at somewhere between four and six years of age. Teens and adults should also be up-to-date with their MMR vaccine.
America's top doctors want parents to talk to their own doctors if they have questions, but if you want more information right now you can visit the CDC's website.
[A version of this post was originally published April 29, 2019. It has been updated.]