We get many questions from parents of our pediatric patients. This guide is a great resource for parents to know when and how they can safely come into the office for scheduled appointments and exams.
Is it safe to visit my pediatrician during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Yes. Your pediatrician’s office is open and taking extra precautions to make sure you and your children are safe when you come in. That includes separate entrances and dedicated rooms for sick and well children. There is no waiting room; instead, patients are escorted directly into an examining room. Masks are required for all staff, children over 2 years of age, and their parents/guardians. Sick children are seen during specific hours. Nurses and providers who are seeing sick patients do not see well children that same day. Rigorous sanitation and cleaning practices are being followed. Telehealth visits are available, and some drive-through testing is being offered.
Why should my child see a pediatrician during the pandemic?
Newborn babies need to be assessed for feeding problems, weight, jaundice, and other issues, and new parents often have questions that need answers. Infants, children, and teens should have their growth, blood pressure, developmental milestones, speech/language, hearing and vision checked, along with screenings for anemia and lead toxicity. Emotional and behavioral issues are important at all ages. They may be related to ongoing problems or new due to pandemic-induced social isolation, lack of structure and/or boredom. Illnesses and injuries should be evaluated and treated.
Perhaps most importantly, infants and children need to be kept up to date on their immunizations.
Why are vaccines so important?
Childhood vaccine rates have fallen dramatically during the COVID-19 crisis. With immunization rates decreasing, and with the reopening and loosening of pandemic restrictions, we fear that there could be outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases like measles and whooping cough, presenting us with a second health crisis. Both the Centers for Disease Control and the American Academy of Pediatrics have recommended that well child visits and immunizations continue during the pandemic.
Are vaccines safe?
Absolutely yes! Today’s vaccines are much more refined and safer than any in history. Vaccines contain antigens, which are either live but very weakened (attenuated) viruses, killed (inactivated) viruses, or small parts of bacteria or viruses. Antigens prompt the body’s immune system to produce protective antibodies to fight against disease or illness. With improvements over the past few decades, the total number of antigens in all vaccines combined is less than what used to be in a single vaccine. A child’s immune system has no problem handling this small number of antigens. Most children encounter many more antigens in daily activities like eating, breathing and playing than they will in all their vaccines combined. We now have vaccines to protect children and teens from 16 different viruses and bacteria that otherwise would threaten their health. Before a vaccine is licensed, it is tested in thousands of children. After licensing, the federal government continues to monitor the safety and efficacy of all vaccines.
What about toxins in vaccines?
In addition to antigens, vaccines contain preservatives and adjuvants that prevent contamination and improve effectiveness. These ingredients are present in minute quantities that have been proven to be extremely safe. In fact, we are all exposed to much higher levels of these ingredients in our everyday life.
What about vaccines and autism?
In 1998, Andrew Wakefield published an article in a British medical journal (The Lancet) allegedly linking the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine to autism in only eight children. Ten of Wakefield’s coauthors later withdrew their names from the article, and dozens of studies since then have disproven his theory. The Lancet has long since retracted the article. Thimerosol, a mercury-containing preservative that was previously used in many vaccines, became the next target of some families with autistic children. Thimerosol was removed from all routine vaccines in 2001, yet the incidence of autism did not decrease.
It is understandable to want to blame someone or something for causing autism in children. What we know is that vaccines save lives. They DO NOT cause autism.
Isn’t natural infection better?
Indeed, in most cases natural infection does impart better immunity. That is why most vaccines require several doses to be effective. However, the price one pays for natural infection is the risk of complications from that disease. Measles can cause encephalitis. Hemophilus influenza, meningococcus, and pneumococcus can all cause meningitis, etc. Vaccines are much safer than the diseases they prevent. We know that COVID-19 has many serious complications. It is hoped that we will have a safe and effective vaccine for coronavirus in the near future.
Why not delay or skip vaccines?
There is no proven benefit whatsoever and there is significant risk in not giving vaccines on time. Vaccines are started early to ensure that the youngest and most fragile are protected as soon as possible. Any parent who refuses to immunize their children is shirking their social responsibility. They are not only putting their own children at risk for serious complications of preventable infectious diseases, but also allowing potential spread of those diseases to those too young or too ill to be vaccinated. The result can be serious complication and even death for those most vulnerable.
Are vaccines really necessary?
Because U.S. vaccine programs have been so successful, most parents have never seen a child with diseases such as measles, meningitis, whooping cough, or chicken pox. They have not seen seizures, blindness, brain damage and death from such illnesses. As a practicing pediatrician for over 40 years, I have personally had patients hospitalized, permanently damaged, and die from vaccine-preventable diseases. I have never seen a life-threatening or life-changing complication from a vaccine. Vaccine-preventable diseases still exist throughout the world, and if immunization rates continue to fall in the United States, they will reemerge here.
Vaccines have saved hundreds of millions of lives worldwide, more than any public health intervention in the history of medicine. My colleagues and I firmly believe that vaccinating children, teens and young adults may be the single most important health-promoting intervention we perform as healthcare providers, and you perform as parents and caregivers.
Even during this current health crisis, it is important to bring your infants, children and teens to their physician, so they continue to receive the ongoing quality healthcare they need and deserve.
Reliable information for parents regarding COVID-19, vaccines, children’s health, and parenting can be found at www.healthychildren.org (American Academy of Pediatrics), www.kidshealth.org (Nemours), and www.cdc.gov (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).