HERSHEY, Pa. — As communities begin to get a better handle on COVID-19, and more and more states consider reopening plans, pediatricians are cautioning families that some of their inactions over the course of the past year could lead to a post-pandemic epidemic.
A study from health care giant Blue Cross Blue Shield recently found a 26% decrease in basic child immunizations from January 2020 to September 2020, when compared to 2019 data. Vaccines which children get at birth, like measles mumps rubella, DTaP (diphtheria, tetanus, and whooping cough or pertussis), and polio, are going unused by parents who won’t bring their children into a doctor’s office, presumably out of concern of contracting COVID-19, according to Dr. Katie Shedlock, a pediatrician and professor at Penn State Children’s Hospital.
"We are worried about the potential of an epidemic that could happen after the pandemic because things like measles can start spreading more," Dr. Shedlock said. "Whooping cough is a concern. Things like that that are normally preventable diseases with vaccines that could become a wider spread problem."
Currently, the drop in child immunizations isn't a problem. COVID-19 protocols like mask-wearing and social distancing have kept all non-coronavirus illnesses low nationwide. In Pennsylvania alone, the flu is considerably less severe, with only 2,816 lab-confirmed cases since the current influenza season started at the end of September 2020. It is on pace to be well below the previous year's total of 131,282 confirmed cases of the flu.
Where doctors are concerned is what happens when restrictions start to go away, safety protocols are lifted, and most specificially, in the case of children, schools reopen, and kids are not up-to-date on their vaccinations.
"We are all very curious as to what is going to happen," Shedlock said. "I don't think anyone will be surprised if something does arise, like a high number of measles, or things like that once schools open back up, when we start doing less of the precautions that are currently doing with social distancing."
Most doctor's offices, Shedlock adds, are following the strictest COVID-19 protocols to ensure the safety of patients. At Penn State Children's Hospital, well-visits are being held in different offices and sections as sick visits. In some cases, check-ins are being done in the parking lot, to limit time spent in the waiting room.