Vaccines and COVID-19

"Vaccine " is a hopeful word during this pandemic. We hope for a vaccine that will dramatically reduce the spread of COVID-19. Development of this vaccine is a top global priority; countries are working tirelessly on it. But with all our focus on COVID-19 right now, it is easy to forget that there are many current vaccines available to prevent a series of childhood diseases. Parents may also have concerns about visiting their doctor's office, or about vaccines more generally.

While there are parents who do not trust immunizations to be safe or beneficial to their children, or have questions about which vaccinations are necessary, there is overwhelming evidence that current vaccines are safe if given following the approved schedule (https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/). They actually prevent these diseases. Children and adults who are not vaccinated are more likely to contract the disease. People with the disease are more likely to pass it to others who are susceptible, as we have seen with measles (and COVID-19). Even a mild case of measles in one child, for instance, can cause severe disease and/or complications in another. This doesn't have to happen. Routine vaccinations have drastically limited 14 childhood diseases and associated complications, making vaccines one of the most successful public health measures ever instituted.

Routine vaccinations reduced (and sometimes eliminated) the spread of childhood diseases in the US. In the last 100 years. Smallpox and measles were both eliminated through routine immunizations. Other diseases are well controlled in the US including mumps, diphtheria, polio, hepatitis and influenza. Based on the medical history of the last century, "vaccine" is still a hopeful word.

The COVID-19 pandemic is a reminder of how essential routine vaccines are. That is why health care professionals have been alarmed about the steep decline in routine childhood vaccinations in March and April 2020, most likely due to coronavirus lockdowns. Pediatricians were worried that a second wave of illness outbreaks - illnesses that we have already controlled through vaccines - would further overburden health care facilities and complicate current COVID-19 cases. This decline seems to be slowly reversing among children two years and under, perhaps in response to encouragement from organizations like the Centers for Disease Control and the American Academy of Pediatrics. Or parents may be responding to reminders from Utah school districts that immunizations must be complete to start the school year. Since immunizations must be given in person, new strategies for children's safety are being tried and are proving successful: using dedicated spaces away from sick patients for only giving vaccines, closing waiting/reception areas, and checking in by phone and receiving vaccines in the car. In-person visits can be scheduled for catch up vaccines and for special cases (immunocompromised children and those with severe acute illness, for example).

There has been much attention given to whether young children are less susceptible to COVID-19 than adults. We don't have an exact answer yet. What we do know is that if vaccine rates for childhood illnesses remain high children will be less susceptible to those diseases. We can be hopeful about using the vaccines we are already sure of. We can hope for equal success in a COVID-19 vaccine too.

For information on immunizations in your area, please contact your health care provider and/or your local county health department.

Sources: www.cdc.gov/vaccines/parents; www.aap.org/immunizations 

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Saturday, 26 September 2020

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