Pediatricians warn parents to immunize children during pandemic

WASHINGTON — Pediatricians acknowledge it’s a confusing time for parents. The messaging early on in the pandemic was to stay away from doctors’ offices unless its an emergency. Now doctors say we’re past that panic, but still as many as 80% of children are not being taken to the doctor.

Dr. Rupin Thakkar works at Swedish Pediatrics in Edmonds. He is concerned not enough children are coming in for their check-ups and immunizations.

“Our fear right now is we could end up with an outbreak of something like measles, whooping cough or meningitis already in the midst of a pandemic,” said Thakkar. “Those diseases are even more serious for kids to get and more deadly than coronavirus."

According to the Washington State Department of Health Immunizations, immunization rates for children 18 and under were down 30% in March, compared to the previous year. In April, they were down 42%.

With immunization rates dropping across the country, warnings were issued by both the Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control, and Prevention.

Dr. Elizabeth Meade is the president of the Washington Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, and chief of pediatrics at the Swedish Medical Center in Seattle.

“Even a small drop in those numbers can really cause vaccine-preventable diseases to reoccur,” said Meade. “The reality is at this point I think preventable diseases are a bigger risk to the health of young kids than COVID-19.”

They are most worried about vaccinations given before age 2, including measles, whooping cough, meningitis, and tetanus, and the boosters that follow before kindergarten and middle school.

Meade wants parents to know many steps are being taken to make it safe to go see their pediatricians. She says many offices are doing well visits, infant and newborn visits, only in the morning and having sick kids come in the afternoon. The offices are cleaned thoroughly before the next day.

Also, patients don’t wait in waiting rooms, added Meade. They wait in their cars and are taken right to the examination rooms. Immunizations can even happen outside, with your child in the car.

“People really need to get back to accessing that care so we don’t face new health challenges for these children,” said Meade, adding the best thing parents can do is to call their children’s pediatricians to ask about their care.

Many visits can be handled with a video call and if necessary, a short in-person visit for vaccines or other tests, she added.