RICHMOND, Va. -- Pediatricians across Virginia are concerned after seeing a decline in vaccinations and well visits as fear during the Coronavirus pandemic kept parents from bringing their healthy children to the doctor.
Andrea Williams, whose six-year-old daughter is up to date on her vaccines, said she understood why parents were reluctant to take their children to the doctor.
“Unless it was something absolutely necessary,” Williams said. “But no, not for a well visit.”
A recent survey of more than 100 pediatric providers in Virginia shows infant vaccination rates have decreased by 30% since early March, according to the Virginia Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Adolescent vaccination rates are down by 76%.
Dr. Eric Freeman, a pediatrician with Old Dominion Pediatrics, said that could make children more vulnerable to diseases and infections such as Whooping Cough, Bacterial Meningitis, and Measles. Infants, he said, were especially at risk.
“There are approximately 100,000 infants less than the age of one in the Commonwealth of Virginia, so a 30% drop in that age group could have drastic ramifications,” Dr. Freeman said. “When there is a delay in terms of vaccines for children, you can’t ensure you’ll still have adequate immunity for protection from a vaccine-preventable disease.”
Older children who are not receiving routine boosters could be at risk of tetanus and other bacterial illnesses.
Pediatrician Dr. Mark Shreve, with Pediatric Associates of Richmond, said doctors’ offices were taking precautions to try and reassure parents during the pandemic.
Several offices are modifying doctor’s visits to limit the number of people allowed in the office at one time.
“All pediatricians have made their offices so safe for kids to come in for these vaccines and checkups,” Dr. Shreve said. “We do parking lot waiting rooms, people come in one at a time. We’re all wearing masks, everything is being cleaned all the time.”
Shreve said his office usually has a vaccination rate of 90%, but said several families are anxious about the spread of COVID-19 and now reluctant to schedule routine visits.
“We’re probably at 81% to 85% right now, which is better than most, but not what we’re used to,” Shreve said.
This month, Governor Ralph Northam began encouraging Virginians to continue vital routine doctor’s visits and vaccination schedules for children.
Pediatricians are still encouraging parents to practice social distancing, routine hand washing, and staying at home as much as possible.
Most patients with COVID-19 have mild to moderate symptoms. However, in a small proportion of patients, COVID-19 can lead to more severe illness, including death, particularly among those who are older or those who have chronic medical conditions.
COVID-19 spreads primarily through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes.
Symptoms include fever, cough, and difficulty breathing. Symptoms appear within 14 days of being exposed to an infectious person.
Virginia health officials urged the following precautions:
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
- Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer only if soap and water are not available.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when coughing or sneezing.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.Stay home when you are sick.
- Avoid contact with sick people.Avoid non-essential travel.