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Sharp drop in childhood immunizations during pandemic alarms pediatricians

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Surprisingly, a significant number of parents are postponing or skipping their children’s immunizations against highly contagious, preventable illnesses like measles, mumps, and polio.

A recent Blue Cross Blue Shield analysis found a 26% drop in vaccine doses in 2020. Forty percent of parents surveyed by Blue Cross said their children missed shots because of COVID-19.

The Mississippi Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics (MSAAP) is urging parents to call their pediatrician now to schedule well-child visits and immunizations to keep their children up to date.

Unvaccinated children are at risk of contracting preventable diseases that can cause lifelong disability or death. The consequences of delaying or skipping vaccinations could be devastating for millions of children.

Mississippi currently vaccinates infants, children, and teenagers to over a dozen deadly and debilitating diseases including whooping cough, measles, chickenpox, and several forms of meningitis. Mississippi has one of the highest vaccination rates in the country and consequently, we have not had a documented case of measles in over twenty years. 99% of Mississippi’s kindergartners are fully vaccinated with the recommended vaccines which is the best vaccination rate in the country.

“This year with the COVID-19 pandemic we have seen a decline in overall vaccination rates and we as pediatricians have concerns about the emergence of vaccine-preventable diseases,” states Dr. Anita Henderson, Chapter President of the MSAAP. She adds, “We encourage all children to see their pediatrician regularly for well-child visits in order to stay current on all recommended immunizations and developmental screenings. According to the World Health Organization, it is estimated that over 2.5 million lives are saved worldwide each year due to vaccinations.”

Fear of catching COVID-19, economic hardship, and greater demands on parents’ time and attention are some of the many reasons parents cite for delaying or skipping their children’s well-visits.

But well-child visits, where vaccines are usually given, provide an opportunity for pediatricians to assess a child’s overall health and determine if they are meeting critical developmental milestones. And some childhood health issues just can’t wait.

Parents have the power to protect their children, themselves, and their family.

By calling their pediatrician’s office, parents can learn about the strict disinfecting protocols and practice changes their doctor has adopted to prevent the spread of COVID-19 that they may not be aware of. Their doctor might also be able to direct them to resources or offer other options if they are struggling to keep appointments.

Pediatricians also remind parents that proof of vaccinations will be required when more schools reopen for in-person learning or when sports and other group activities resume.

“We know it has been challenging for parents to manage so many responsibilities during this pandemic,” said Dr. Lee Savio Beers, the AAP’s national president. “But now is the time to get your children caught up on their immunizations and well visits, and your pediatrician wants to help. As things open back up, children will need the protection that vaccinations give them.”

Facts about child and adolescent immunizations:

  • Recommended childhood vaccines start just after birth and last through the teenage years.
  • Here is the recommended schedule for birth through age 6 and 7-18. Updated immunization schedules will be published February 11, 2021.
  • The schedule of immunizations has been researched and documented to be the most effective and safe way to protect children from disease.
  • Vaccines given to children are for these vaccine-preventable diseases: Chickenpox, Diphtheria, Haemophilus influenzae type b, Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, Human Papillomavirus, Influenza, Measles, Meningococcal Disease, Mumps, Pertussis (Whooping Cough), Pneumococcal Disease, Polio, Rotavirus, Rubella, and Tetanus
  • Vaccines are carefully timed to provide protection when children are most vulnerable, and when the vaccines will produce the strongest response from the child’s immune system.
  • The vaccination schedule is evaluated each year based on the most recent scientific data available and approved by the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Academy of Family Physicians, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and the American College of Nurse-Midwives.
  • If your child misses a shot, you don’t need to start over. Just go back to your child’s doctor for the next shot.
  • Children who might not otherwise get vaccinated and who qualify can receive vaccines at no charge through the federally funded Vaccines for Children program.
  • Talk with your child’s doctor if you have questions about vaccines.

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