PEORIA — With everyone focusing on COVID-19, doctors are concerned about the fact that important preventive care is not happening — and vaccinations are at the top of the list.
The CDC reports major declines in the vaccination rate across the country in the last two months. Serious consequences could result if this continues.
"Back in the late ’80s and early ’90s, there was a big measles epidemic, and it really centered in Illinois and the Chicago area. There were several reasons for the outbreak, but most of it was that children under 2 weren’t getting vaccinated for measles — they just kind of didn’t get around to it," said Dr. Jalayne Lapke, a pediatrician and a professor of clinical pediatrics at the University of Illinois College of Medicine Peoria on Wednesday. "There were lots of deaths."
Vaccinations are something that should not be put off, particularly for infants, who have very little immunity, said Lapke. Infant vaccinations are so important that they were one of the services pediatricians continued to provide during the initial shutdown.
"The danger always is that your child will be exposed to something that they don’t have immunity to, and they could die or get seriously ill," said Lapke. "Things like whooping cough — young babies die of whooping cough — or meningitis, an infection of the spinal fluid around the brain. Little babies don’t have good immune systems, that’s why we start immunizations around 2 months old."
A slight delay in vaccinations for older children who have already had their primary series of vaccines is not quite as serious, but they still need to be done.
"For the community at large, you need about 80 to 90% of people having immunity to something," said Lapke. "When you drop below 80%, everyone is at risk. There are some people who cannot get vaccines, say they have cancer, they have had a bone marrow transplant or their immune system doesn’t work for whatever reason. Those people are at high risk, and they don’t have the option to get a vaccine."
Children can be vectors during outbreaks — they carry the disease to others. It happened during the measles outbreak in the early ’90s, and it could happen during the pandemic. That’s one reason why schools are closed even though most children don’t suffer serious consequences from COVID-19, and it’s why kids should stay home when it’s time to visit the grocery store.
"They touch everything," said Lapke.
Parents may have put off doctor visits in the last few months out of fear, but they can rest a little easier knowing that medical offices have taken extreme measures to protect their patients. Not only do they clean extensively, they also have changed protocols to keep patients from mingling and to provide greater social distance for everyone.
"You can take a history from a doorway, with the door closed, and when the provider needs to examine a child, you examine with gloves, washing hands before and after, and then stepping back," said Lapke. "Another thing most practices have started doing is to separate well children from ill children. There should be just one parent per child, as long as that parent is healthy, and don’t bring other children with you. Everyone is screened before they come and when they get there."
COVID-19 has made going out into the world a lot more uncertain, but parents should not let that keep them from taking care of the health of their children, said Lapke.
"The biggest message isn’t that ‘it’s really safe, go on back to the doctor’ — that implies a level of safety that none of us have. But what’s leveled the peak is washing hands, social distancing, sheltering in place, not being out and mingling, and wearing masks. I think medical offices are safe because they are doing those types of things. So see the doctor for a vaccine or something you are worried about."
Leslie Renken can be reached at 686-3250 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter.com/LeslieRenken, and subscribe to her on Facebook.com/leslie.renken.