Since the middle of March, federal and state health emergency orders have led to stay-at-home orders and limited services at hospitals and doctors’ offices.
These orders have made parents reluctant to bring their children for well-child visits and vaccinations. This is occurring even though both the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the New Mexico Department of Health having stated time and again that well-child visits and vaccinations are essential services.
As such, they should not be curtailed during the COVID-19 pandemic. Although some aspects of the well-child visit, such as developmental screening questionnaires and anticipatory guidance and advice, can be carried out through telemedicine visits, measurements of growth and vaccinations require an in-person office visit.
Recently, the CDC issued a report on the Vaccine for Children Program, which provides vaccines to New Mexico’s children. This report compared non-influenza-recommended childhood vaccine orders for a period of January through April 2019 to a similar period in 2020. In addition, the CDC looked specifically at the administration of measles-containing vaccines during these same two time periods.
It is recommended that children receive two doses of measles-containing vaccine at age 12-15 months and 4-6 years. The recent measles epidemic in the New York City area demonstrates how quickly a vaccine preventable disease can spread in unvaccinated children. The report showed a substantial reduction in Vaccine for Children Program-ordered vaccines since the COVID-19 emergency had been declared. A similar decrease in measles-containing vaccine administration was noted, especially in children over 2 years of age.
Pediatric practices throughout New Mexico have made accommodations to separate possible COVID-19 patients from other patients. Either they have separate facilities to see possible COVID-19 patients or, at least, separate times for each type of patients.
It is important that children though 2 years of age keep their vaccinations up to date. In addition, school registration will be starting soon. Children enrolling in pre-K or kindergarten as well as those entering the seventh grade need to update their vaccinations. Students entering college also may need additional vaccinations.
This ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which will be with us for a long time, is a reminder of the importance of vaccinations. Unvaccinated or under-vaccinated children will be at risk for other infectious diseases besides COVID-19.
As social-distancing requirements are relaxed, children who are not immunized will be more vulnerable. Vaccinations are essential.
Dr. Laurence Shandler, FAAP, has cared for the children of Santa Fe and Northern New Mexico for more than four decades. He practices at Southwest Care Pediatrics-Alameda.