During the ongoing response to COVID-19, immunization rates for children have dropped significantly throughout the United States, reports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
In Michigan, Oregon and other states, vaccination rates have fallen as much as 50 percent, raising concerns about possible outbreaks of vaccine-controlled diseases such as measles, whooping cough (pertussis) and many others, all of which can cause serious health problems or death for infants and small children.
“It is especially important during this pandemic that parents make sure their children are receiving the regularly recommended vaccines on time,” said Victoria Neuman, Advanced Practice Nurse Practitioner at ThedaCare Physicians Pediatrics-Appleton. “We understand some parents have been hesitant to bring infants and toddlers in for routine checkups because of COVID-19. We want our patients and families to know ThedaCare is taking every precaution to ensure the safety of everyone who comes through our doors. We highly encourage parents to continue to schedule those well-child visits, which is an important time to review the child’s vaccination record to make sure their immunizations are up to date.”
Dr. Abby Smolcich, MD, of ThedaCare Physicians Pediatrics-Darboy, echoed Neuman’s recommendations.
“It’s vitally important to make sure we are protecting our children from vaccine-preventable diseases,” said Dr. Smolcich. “We want to continue to be proactive, stopping these diseases from remerging.”
She noted that more than 1,000 cases of measles were reported in the U.S. in 2019.
“Keeping everyone vaccinated on schedule helps our communities develop ‘herd immunity’, which protects those who cannot be vaccinated because of certain health issues,” said Dr. Smolcich. “Just as herd immunity will eventually help protect us from the coronavirus, it’s been protecting our society from childhood diseases for many years.”
National health care professionals are concerned that as states relax stay-at-home orders and families begin interacting and traveling more, outbreaks of common vaccine-preventable diseases will arise, putting children at risk.
Neuman reassured parents that vaccines are safe.
“Vaccines are a highly effective, safe and easy way to keep your family healthy,” she said. “All vaccines are tested by the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) and approved for the recommended ages.”
She noted that providers must maintain records of all childhood, teen and adult immunizations, which are required to be reported to state medical agencies. In Wisconsin, that is the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS). Wisconsin residents may access their child’s immunization record online by logging onto the Wisconsin Immunization Registry through the DHS’s webpage, www.dhs.wisconsin.gov.
Parents may access complete information about what immunizations the CDC recommends for infants, children, teens and adults by searching “Immunization Schedule” on the CDC’s website, www.cdc.gov.
Safe to Visit ThedaCare Facilities
It is very safe to bring your child to a ThedaCare facility for a well-child visit or to have their immunizations brought up to date, said Dr. Smolcich and Neuman.
“We have screeners at all facilities who ask incoming patients about symptoms, then take everyone’s temperature,” said Neuman. “Our ‘well sites’ care for anyone without COVID-related symptoms. We have designated specific facilities to care for potential COVID-19 cases. Every effort will be made to continue isolating COVID-19 cases.”
She added that anyone entering a ThedaCare facility will be required to wear a mask the entire time they are at the clinic.
“If they do not have a mask, we will provide one,” she said. “All of our staff will be wearing masks as well. We have implemented social distancing throughout our clinics from the front door to the exam room.”
ThedaCare team members have gone to great lengths to make our facilities safe so we can provide care for patients and families. Those steps include:
- Our physicians, nurses, caregivers, support staff and infectious disease experts continue to stay informed with the latest information and treatment protocols to make sure we are ready, prepared and accessible at anytime, anywhere our community needs us.
- Patients are screened prior to entering facilities so they are directed to the right care areas quickly and isolated if presenting respiratory symptoms.
- We are following or exceeding the CDC’s protocols and guidelines for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) as well as the Wisconsin Department of Health.
- We are limiting visitors to minimize the risk of exposure
For well-child visits, ThedaCare is asking that only one parent/caregiver accompany the child and not bring other siblings. Exceptions will be allowed. Parents should discuss such concerns when scheduling the appointment.
Both Dr. Smolcich and Neuman acknowledge that some children may have fears related to wearing a mask or interacting with staff who are wearing masks. They offered some suggestions from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) to help children deal with that concern:
- Explain to your child why it’s important to wear a mask – to avoid spreading germs – and why other people are wearing masks. Make sure the mask covers the child’s nose and mouth.
- Wear your mask around your home and have children wear masks to practice and to become accustomed to wearing one.
- Create a reward system; give the child a treat for wearing the mask and for not touching it.
- Decorate the mask with the child’s favorite character or make a mask from material the child chooses.
- Explain that doctors and nurses will be wearing a mask just as mom or dad are, and that’s okay.
- Be prepared to offer extra comfort to the child during their medical appointment.
The AAP says the most important things parents can teach their children are to keep their hands away from their face and wash their hands often.
“The response to COVID-19 is a trying time for everyone,” explained Neuman. “It’s important to maintain routine health checkups for children, teens and adults so that we all stay as healthy as possible. Being in good health, and being up-to-date on all recommended immunizations, helps all of us ward off illness or disease.”
ThedaCare and Go Valley Kids are teaming up in 2020 to help families be healthier, more active and enjoy Northeast and Central Wisconsin.
For more than 110 years, ThedaCare® has been committed to improving the health of the communities it serves in Northeast and Central Wisconsin. The organization delivers care to a community of more than 600,000 residents in 18 counties and employs more than 7,000 health care professionals. ThedaCare has 180 locations including seven hospitals located in Appleton, Neenah, Berlin, New London, Shawano, Waupaca and Wild Rose. ThedaCare is the first in Wisconsin to be a Mayo Clinic Care Network Member, giving our specialists the ability to consult with Mayo Clinic experts on a patient’s care. ThedaCare is a not-for-profit health care organization with a level II trauma center, comprehensive cancer treatment, stroke and cardiac programs as well as a foundation dedicated to community service.