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Childhood Vaccinations Dropping off Following COVID-19 Lockdown

Doctor's office waiting room
A sectioned-off waiting room at Capitol Pediatrics in Midlothian. (Photo: Capitol Pediatrics)

The CDC says the United States could begin seeing outbreaks of measles and other vaccine-preventable diseases because children are not getting necessary immunizations during the COVID 19 Pandemic. Charles Fishburne talked with a Chesterfield County Pediatrician, Dr. Gray Snowden about the drop, the dangers and what precautions his practice is taking to safeguard against the coronavirus.

Fishburne: Is it safe to bring a newborn baby into a pediatricians office now?

Snowden: Absolutely. I mean, every office is different. In our office, for instance, we have closed down one of our two entrances so that everyone has to come in the same door, there's a table immediately in front of that door so that they can't enter the office as a whole without being checked in by the medical assistant that's at that desk, who will screen them with questions and also with temperature taking for both the child and the parent. And then once it's determined that that child is going to be seen, they are escorted directly from that table to their exam room. There's no open areas in the office, there's no communal area, there's no reference area where children can mix with each other. So I my standard response to parents when they've asked that question is that your decision to leave your house is up to you. You know, everyone has to feel comfortable going out in public in general. But once you set foot in our office, we feel like we have made it considerably safer here than in many other public spaces. You know, for example, the grocery store, we think it's very safe to come here and I would ask absolutely feel that the risk involved in not coming in for physical, particularly one that includes vaccines is considerably higher than the risks posed by being in the office.

Fishburne: But what about school-aged children for that scheduled well child visit, you see, they're holding up pretty well.

Snowden: They're holding up relatively well, I think the younger children are holding up better. And again, I would like to think that's due to our efforts in encouraging them to keep those visits. And I am I am not as adamant if someone, if a school aged child is late for a checkup, we certainly encourage them to come in. But I'm not as adamant about that child as I am the younger ones who have yet to have any doses of certain of the vaccines. The one year old is the one I keep coming back to because there are three vaccines given at one year of age that are that have not been given at all for most children. And so those three illnesses which are the MMR illnesses, chickenpox and hepatitis A those three sets of illnesses, the child that a child of that age is completely unprotected against until they have those 12 month vaccines.

Fishburne: So what would you tell your patients about the relative risks of COVID-19 infection versus all of these childhood vaccinations that you feel are so important?

Snowden: Well, you know, you'd have to say, t hese days the chances of a child being exposed to coronavirus are probably higher than the chances that they're being exposed to measles. That's just mathematics. Now, for the vast majority of children who come in contact with coronavirus, they're going to have a very mild if not minimal, you know, possibly even what we call subclinical or invisible case of the illness, you know, and be totally asymptomatic through it, whereas with measles, you know, they're going to be quite ill. So yes, I would say it's more likely that they would come in contact with coronavirus but in terms of a serious illness or an illness that causes a child to be ill enough to be hospitalized, the chances of that are much higher with measles. pertussis which is whooping cough than it is with corona virus.

Fishburne: What about the Kawasaki like disease? Have you seen any cases? And should parents be worried about that?

Snowden: I have to knock on wood. As I say, say this. I have not seen one of those cases yet. I understand they have had a case here in Richmond, probably downtown at VCU. That's a scary thing. Kawasaki disease is something we see. Not frequently, but not uncommonly. So it's something we're all familiar with. The best news when it comes to that scenario is that so far it's quite rare, certainly rare compared to the number of Coronavirus cases in general, these children are very sick with high fever, significant abdominal pain. They have other findings such as conjunctivitis, redness and irritation of their mouth, rashes. So it's not something that I would expect the average parent even if they have concerns about you know, having their child seen. The average parent is not going to sit on that for any length of time they're going to get the child seen and all of us now in the pediatric practice are aware of that and on the lookout for it.

Dr. Gray Snowden is senior partner at Capitol Pediatrics in Midlothian.

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