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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