COVID-19 disrupted a lot of regular doctor visits, including appointments for babies and kids, which delayed vaccinations and other checkups.
“The first 18 months of life is when staying on track with well child checks is the most crucial,” said Doctor Sarah Hodack, the Medical Director at Bella Health and Wellness in Englewood, Colorado. “If you wait too long in between vaccines, then you’re just delaying that full potential to be immunized.”
Delaying vaccinations and well child visits is exactly what happened as COVID-19 came to the U.S. Parents were put in a bind, fearing their safety but going to a doctor’s office anyways, or holding off on regular checkups for their child.
“We had ordered a whole bunch of our vaccines at the beginning there, not knowing this was going to happen. So, we had a pretty large stockpile,” Dr. Hodack said.
“People were hesitant, and so we did see this decrease in patients,” said Dede Chism, Executive Director of Bella Health and Wellness. “In their defense, I would say early on we didn't have a lot of data.”
She said a lot of information was going around, but there weren’t many numbers.
“We had many people who were really, really scared, especially in March or early April. We are seeing people calm down a little bit now,” she said.
Dr. Hodack said they worked with parents on a decision not to come in because they didn’t have answers at the time.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a chart in May that showed just that. Orders for vaccination doses for a multitude of diseases changed from the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in January, to the national emergency declaration, to mid-April, all decreasing over time.
“These diseases, we need to maintain high vaccination rates to keep them from spreading,” said Doctor Sean O’Leary, a Pediatric Infectious Disease Specialist at Children's Hospital Colorado. “For most of the vaccines, one shot does offer some protection but nowhere near 100 percent. And that’s why we need to give in most cases three or four.”
He said delaying scheduled vaccinations can also cause harm.
“The risks for outbreaks of diseases are going to be highest if we have a big group of younger children that haven't been vaccinated. So those are kind of the priority to get caught up at this point. But we also are concerned on the four to 6-year-olds and the early adolescence,” Dr. O’Leary said.
“They receive a lot of vaccines from the time they are born until 18 months, and there's not that much wiggle room in terms of waiting or skipping,” Chism said.
This can especially cause problems as we reached the winter months again and kids are at a higher risk for certain diseases, or as the school year begins and kids are required to meet certain standards.
“If you're not meeting those standards or guidelines, then sometimes that could maybe make it so their entrance into a particular school is delayed or not allowed because of a delay in vaccines,” Dr. Hodack said.
As stay-at-home orders are lifted and people are learning more about COVID-19, Chism said, “we’re seeing people booking their appointments, feeling a little bit more safe.”
With more appointments, we asked Doctor O’Leary if this could overwhelm the system, especially before schools go back into session.
“I do think that the influx that we are seeing is going to happen in the coming weeks to months, of kids coming back in for their well child visits and vaccines. That’s going to be offset by fewer people coming in for sick visits,” Dr. O’Leary said, referencing that offices have seen less sick children due to the fact that a lot of them have been self-quarantined.
As we learn more about the disease, Dr. O’Leary said safety precautions that help prevent the spread are becoming more common.
“Most pediatrician's offices are about the safest places you can be, so the risk of going into the pediatricians office is pretty minimal,” he said.