The COVID-19 pandemic has had many effects on children’s health, and one of them is a lag in checkups and immunizations.
Many parents put off routine checkups for their kids, choosing to avoid doctors’ offices for anything except urgent and acute matters. Now those parents are being urged to get their kids back for checkups and immunizations.
“A lot of families canceled their checkups knowing it wasn’t an urgent need at that moment, so a lot of families, a lot of children, got really behind on their standard vaccine series,” said Dr. Rebecca Carter, a practicing pediatrician as well as an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.
“Now that life is getting to a new semblance of what normal will look like, we’re really putting out the word that we really need families to reach back out to pediatricians.”
Carter said the delays in getting checkups are one reason why there’s been a decline in the number of kids who are up to date with routine vaccinations. It might be more top-of-mind if you have younger kids, because you’re used to them getting so many shots in their first few years. But there’s concern with older kids.
“There’s a series of vaccines that we typically give right around the age of 11,” Carter said.
Over the two-plus years of the pandemic, “that means a lot of those kids who may have missed it early on are now into their high school years, and they may not be well protected against meningitis, against tetanus and pertussis, and may or may not have started their HPV series.”
“We really want to try to make sure all of those kids, especially entering end of middle school into high school, are getting that coverage.”
The D.C. public school system recently announced it was pushing back the deadline for students to provide documentation that they’re caught up on all their childhood immunizations. At the beginning of the month, a significant number of students were either behind on their shots, or had not reported they were caught up on their immunizations against a variety of diseases, such as measles, polio, hepatitis, as well as the ones mentioned by Carter.
“The point of our vaccine requirements — there’s really no difference this year than there have been in previous years — is to make sure kids are safe and the school community is safe,” D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser said at her first-day-of-school news conference Monday. “We want everybody to get a chance to get their record straight so that we can continue with the school year.”
To help accomplish that, DCPS said it will stress accessibility to the students and their families who have fallen behind.
“Schools have the ability to schedule that type of vaccination clinic on their campuses,” said DCPS Chancellor Lewis Ferebee. “We will also have a number of pop-up opportunities throughout the school year. We’re taking a targeted approach where we know our numbers may be higher at some schools or communities than others.”