Postponing childhood immunizations puts kids and communities at risk of serious preventable diseases. A pediatrician explains why.
At a time when many parents are worried about their children being exposed to COVID-19, some are postponing or even canceling appointments to have kids vaccinated against childhood diseases. That’s a decision that could have dire consequences, according to doctors and health officials.
“When vaccination rates decline, we worry about an increase in vaccine-preventable diseases that can be dangerous for children,” said Robert Riewerts, MD, regional chief of pediatrics for Kaiser Permanente in Southern California.
“I understand that parents may feel uneasy about coming into our medical offices during the coronavirus pandemic,” he added, “but we’re taking every precaution to keep kids and their families safe.”
Here are answers to 5 common questions parents have about childhood vaccines — during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.
1. Why are vaccines important?
Vaccines help keep children healthy. The standard vaccine schedule protects kids from 14 serious diseases by the time they are 2, including measles, mumps, the flu, and whooping cough.
Getting your child vaccinated doesn’t just protect the child; it also protects your community. When enough people are vaccinated against a certain disease, the germs can’t travel as easily from person to person, and the entire community is less likely to get the disease. Community immunity will be especially important during the upcoming flu season, to avoid stressing a health care system that’s already struggling with the impact of COVID-19.
2. I’ve been keeping my child at home during the COVID-19 pandemic. Does he or she still need to get vaccinated?
Yes. “It’s very hard to say for sure that a child isn’t going to see another person outside of their immediate family for an extended period of time,” said Dr. Riewerts. “Even if you are keeping your child at home, there are countless exposures that can occur through parents and siblings.”
When unvaccinated children do get exposed to diseases such as whooping cough or the measles, they’re at higher risk for serious complications.
3. Is it safe to postpone my child’s vaccinations until COVID-19 passes?
No. Kaiser Permanente encourages parents to have their children immunized according to the vaccine schedule set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The suggested timing for each vaccine is based on how children’s immune systems respond to vaccines at various ages and when they’re most likely to be exposed to certain diseases.
“When you get a vaccine, your immune system learns how to protect itself from certain germs,” said Dr. Riewerts. “But you need to allow enough time for that to happen. If you wait until your child starts day care, or until there’s an outbreak of measles, there may not be enough time for the immunity to develop.”
“Many vaccines are given in doses,” he added, “so if your child receives only one dose, they won’t be fully protected.”
4. Is it safe to bring my child to the doctor’s office for vaccinations during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Yes. We’ve taken many steps to ensure it’s safe to bring your child in.
Before your appointment, you’ll be screened over the phone for COVID-19 symptoms. If you and your child aren’t showing any symptoms, you’ll most likely be scheduled for an in-person visit. However, if any symptoms develop between the time you set up the appointment and the visit, you must reschedule.
Anyone entering a Kaiser Permanente facility is screened for symptoms, and face masks are required for all adults and children ages 2 and up. Our lobbies and waiting rooms have been rearranged to support physical distancing, and enhanced cleaning and sanitizing procedures are in place. Dedicated areas for pediatric care limit exposure to the virus.
5. How can I find out if my child is due for a vaccination?
Contact your child’s doctor through the secure message center on kp.org, or call the doctor’s office.
Learn more about childhood vaccinations.