Childhood Vaccination Rates Dropped During the Pandemic: It’s Time for a Collective Catch-up

Thank you to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) for sponsoring this post.

Many parents I know (myself included) feel that they dropped the ball in some way during the pandemic. My babies turned teen/tweens during this period, and it’s just wild to think of all the changes that occurred while mostly cocooned inside the confines of our home. Dialing back on their relaxed screen time privileges (along with other surviving-lockdown-accommodations) is still a work in progress (to say the least!). Although I’m a big believer in giving ourselves some grace as parents while we continue to juggle numerous responsibilities during challenging times, it’s imperative to shed light on the important (and concerning) stuff, including the fact that routine childhood immunization rates dropped during the pandemic. 

It’s time for a collective catch-up. 

A recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report documented a substantial decrease in routine pediatric vaccine doses administered from March to May last year, during a period when a significant amount of childhood health checkups were missed. What’s most concerning is that the gap in childhood immunizations (including measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR), diphtheria, tetanus, acellular pertussis (DTaP), and human papillomavirus (HPV) immunizations) from the early period of the pandemic remains. 

As parents, we protect our children and babies every single day – from the research that went into that very first car seat – to sports helmets, seatbelts, and so much more. One of the best ways to protect and keep our kids safe is by keeping up with their immunizations. Vaccines are an effective, proven way to keep children healthy and safe. And missing routine vaccinations can leave our babies and children vulnerable to severe and once eradicated diseases, such as measles and smallpox, while putting the most vulnerable people in our communities at risk. 

So, what can we do? Call your pediatrician.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), pediatricians want to address parents’ questions and concerns during a year unlike any other. Consulting this trusted source (and not Google or Facebook!) is the best way to protect children against some pretty severe but preventable diseases. 

Keep in mind that medical offices have innovated ways to make visits even safer, including robust disinfecting and cleaning practices, providing different locations or time slots for well vs. sick children, as well as offering telehealth appointments. Pediatricians’ offices are indeed safe to visit, even during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

If your kid missed a vaccine appointment, they most likely missed out on other health check-ups, including developmental screenings and necessary care that occurs during physical exams. 

As a busy working mom, I can certainly commiserate with those long laundry lists. It’s important to remember that a visit to your pediatrician’s office is a check-or-two off that to-do-list. 

I recently had the chance to meet with a few AAP team members and I appreciate the way in which Dr. Whitney Casares, AAP spokesperson and author describes the mechanism of vaccines:

“Vaccines work as a partner with your child’s immune system. The vaccine teaches your immune system how to recognize a bacteria or a virus, and then it is your own immune system that actually builds up your body’s protection. After the vaccine does its work, it is broken down by your body and it’s gone. The vaccine does not stay in your body, but rather it’s your own immune system that is now stronger. And that’s what makes your immune system able to protect your body against something like measles or the flu if it encounters it later on.”

“This is also why most side effects happen in the first few days or weeks, and there’s rarely longer-term problems, because the vaccine is not in the body any more after it has delivered those instructions to the immune system.”

“Side effects usually happen in the first few days, like a low fever or sore arm, and are signs the vaccine is working and your immune system is becoming stronger – kind of like how you may feel sore after a workout.”

Also, check out these solid tips for easing fear of shots, along with helpful language in encouraging kids to feel more in control. View the most up-to-date immunization schedules to ensure that your kid is on track and #CallYourPediatrician to play catch-up if needed. For more information, visit this plethora of info from the AAP, and remember that immunizations, one of the greatest success stories of public health and modern medicine, are the best way to protect our kids, communities, and loved ones from outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases. 

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Let’s Move!: An Invitation To The White House with First Lady, Michelle Obama

In a whirlwind trip, I recently traveled to Washington D.C. to visit the White House.  Thanks to Popsugar, I was honored to be among the parenting bloggers invited to join our First Lady, Michelle Obama, speak about her Let’s Move! initiative, and the health and well-being of our nation’s children.

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After navigating White House security, touring several rooms (and sipping coffee on exquisite White House china), we were escorted into the East Room and met by several leaders in the Let’s Move! campaign, including officials from the Department of Health and Human Services, The President’s Council of Fitness, Sports & Nutrition, The Department of Agriculture (USDA), and the Partnership for Healthier America.  Encouraged to take part in the collective voices amplifying #LetsMove messages, I joined in tweeting away in real-time, in a conversation that was trending on twitter for hours that day.

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When the First Lady, Michelle Obama entered the room, the excitement was palpable.  She explained how after a routine visit to the pediatrician’s office, during an incredibly busy time, her girls’ meals underwent mass reform.  “Dessert in our house went from a basic human right to a treat.”  In completely relatable terms she described how she “was the one who decided what to buy at that grocery store” and those important decisions that we make for our children become “our secret weapons.”

No one plays a bigger, more important role in our kids’ health than we do as parents.  I came to this issue really as a mom.

Childhood obesity has severe longitudinal health consequences – and issues of food insecurity, health education, and nutritional change are complex. Six years after launching Let’s Move!, our nation has seen tremendous progress and our First Lady isnt stopping.  From MyPlate, healthier school meals, the implementation of grocery stores in food deserts and so much more, we’ve seen impressive accomplishments from the Let’s Move! programs:

  • Nearly 80 million people (1 in 4 Americans), now live in Let’s Move! comminutes, where kids can walk to school on new sidewalks, join in summer meal programs, and local athletic leagues.
  • 1.6 million kids attend healthier daycare centers.
  • Over 10 million kids attend Let’s Move! Active Schools where they strive to incorporate 60 minutes of physical activity each day.
  • 2 million kids now have Let’s Move! Salad Bars installed in their schools.
  • Over 30 million children have access to healthier school meals.
  • Thousands of chain restaurants have created healthier menus for children, and food and beverage companies cut 6.4 trillion calories from their products.
  • Junk food marketing has been eliminated in classrooms.

Michelle Obama said that someday we will look back on the sort of food that we used to feed our children, and it will be comparable “to not wearing seatbelts, bike helmets, or sunscreen.”  According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), we’ve seen recent promising data showing significant drops in childhood obesity, and as our First Lady said, “we can’t afford not to give our kids nutritious food, because we’re spending hundreds of billions of dollars treating obesity-related diseases, we simply don’t have the luxury to ignore this issue.”

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I’m certain that my words fail to adequately capture the magnitude of the overall experience. To hear the First Lady, Michelle Obama so eloquently speak with care and conviction on a topic of such importance, felt surreal. So down-to-earth and genuine, she mastered locking individual eyes in the excited crowd, as if truly inviting you into the conversation. And to have access to various rooms in the White House amongst tangible American history, right before my eyes – (the famous official portrait of John F. Kennedy – the green silk covered walls in the Green Room – the portraits of the First Ladies in the Vermile Room – Abraham Lincoln’s crystal in the China Room) – absolutely took my breath away.

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The whole experience was further elevated by a tour of the White House Kitchen Garden, formed by Michelle Obama in 2009, where the seeds for the Let’s Move! initiative were planted.  During the presentations, we were lucky enough to see the White House Executive Chef prepare a Tuscan kale salad using kale grown in the garden.

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Michelle Obama said that she has “no intentions of stopping this work, once my family leaves the White House.”

She is indeed passion and purpose personified.

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May we all join in the sea of voices echoing the importance of health for our next generations while making decisions that influence marketing demands.

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Coming from a public health background, and simply being a mom whose passionate about this pressing issue – wrapped this special invitation in tremendous meaning.

I’m so grateful for it all.

Special thank you to Popsugar and the White House Team.  I was not compensated for this post in any way. 

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