Concerns Grow Over Routine Childhood Vaccinations As School Year Nears
The pandemic has led to delayed and deferred doctor visits and routine childhood vaccinations. Across the country, states have ordered nearly 12 million fewer doses of vaccines against diseases like measles and rubella than in previous years. Dr. Christopher Wilhelm, a pediatrician at MU Health Care, sat down with the Health & Wealth Desk to talk about the dangers of putting off preventive care and childhood inoculations.
WILHELM: So at the beginning of the pandemic, if you think about March of 2020, we didn't know what was headed our way and medical resources were being stretched thing taking care of those who were afflicted by COVID. With that being said it was kind of like, "if you're well, stay home," because it's not safe to bring even a bunch of, you know — who has COVID and who doesn't, we don't know — bring them into the waiting room. And that delay for months created such a backlog of well-child appointments and stuff like that that we're slowly digging out of.
HEALTH & WEALTH: With people postponing or deferring preventive care, what are your biggest concerns as a pediatrician?
WILHELM: My biggest fear right now is that we have this COVID, everybody's pushing this COVID vaccine, and people are going to fall behind on their other vaccines. Because all the attention is driven towards one, which is important, but let's not also all of the sudden, school year starts up and we have a measles outbreak. There have been small pockets of places that have had it, but we would hate for something large, having another pandemic with a certain disease on top of the ongoing COVID pandemic. So it's very important that the parents get their kids in, get them vaccinated with their routine vaccines.
H&W: Because you need enough people inoculated in the community to have that herd immunity that we've heard so much about.
WILHELM: And what people don't realize is these things like achieving herd immunity, we have been doing it for years already with other diseases besides COVID. And I think what people, people have just been so used to getting shots, and getting their vaccines, and that's keeping disease down of many things that were very traumatic to children. Measles being one, rubella — I have never, in my 20 years of practice, seen a kid with rubella, and that's because we have gotten the vaccines, the herd immunity is what has kept it down.
H&W: As we see COVID-19 cases increasing so quickly in mid-Missouri and with the school year just around the corner, what advice do you have for parents who are concerned about their kids safety?
WILHELM: My general advice would be what we've been preaching all along, which is good hand washing. And now with this COVID thing, yes we have the social distancing and stuff. And are you going to be able to enforce that in schools? Probably not — they're children. And because of their age and their developmental stage, children are only able to see into the future about a minute to a minute and a half — any parent knows this. So to tell a child while they're in school, "hey, social distance," right we should preach that, we should preach all those good habits we've been saying. That's still going to happen. So what can a parent do, is probably if your child has any signs of a fever, cough, cold symptoms; keep them home. I know that can be easier said than done, but it is better to keep your one child home than to send them to school and then nine children have to stay home.