Parents fearful of the coronavirus were shying away from pediatricians’ offices during the peak of the pandemic, but that seems to be slowly changing.
Pediatricians and vaccine advocates worried that infants, toddlers, and children would miss critical immunizations for childhood diseases such as measles. That fear was not unfounded.
Data provided by the Connecticut Department of Public Health shows that pediatricians ordered fewer vaccine doses over the past three months than they did in 2019.
According to the DPH, state-supplied pediatric vaccine doses were down 13% in March, 43% in April, and 34% in May, compared with the same monthly periods last year.
Dr. Jody L. Terranova, an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Connecticut Health Center in Farmington who also is the immunization advocate for the Connecticut Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, said the numbers seem to be headed back in the right direction.
She said it seems like pediatricians have begun ordering vaccines because they are hopeful patients will be coming back for care that is routine but important.
“We don’t want to delay vaccines any further,” Terranova said. “Our herd immunity has already taken a hit.”
She said pediatricians are making every effort to offer extended hours or schedule “vaccine only” visits with their patients.
The month of April was “bare bones” for most practices as they worked to separate out the “well” visits from the “sick” visits, Terranova said.
Amy Pisani of Vaccine Your Family, said they are telling parents to call and not cancel their appointments.
“Just ask questions before you go,” Pisani said.
She said Connecticut has no plans to relax its back-to-school immunization schedule so parents will have to get the required immunizations if they want to enroll their children in daycare or school.
Terranova said pediatricians are working with the DPH to use the CT WIZ system to interface with their electronic records for real-time reporting of immunizations. According to DPH, only 150 practices, or 24%, are using the system. They are encouraging more practices to link up to it because the Centers for Disease Control plans to use it to eventually make decisions on how to distribute a COVID-19 vaccine.
Pisani also said if parents of infants have been quarantining over the past three months and they haven’t gotten their vaccinations then “they are at risk.” It generally takes two weeks for a vaccine to be effective.
Measles is one of the most contagious childhood diseases.
In 2019, there were 1,282 measles cases in 31 states in the United States. The CDC reported that 128 of the people who got measles were hospitalized, and 61 reported having complications, including pneumonia and encephalitis.
Last year in Connecticut there were four confirmed cases of measles and one suspected case. No measles cases have been reported in Connecticut in 2020.
The General Assembly is considering eliminating the religious exemption to vaccinations, but it’s unclear if that will be on the agenda for the July special session.
House Majority Leader Matt Ritter, D-Hartford, said they plan to move forward with legislation at some point in the future.
“I think COVID-19 is a shocking reminder of what happens when we don’t have a vaccine available or herd immunity,” Ritter said last week.
He said when there’s a vaccine for COVID-19, he doesn’t believe there will be a large number of lawmakers who would condone an opt-out for the vaccination.
“I think you would be in the minority,” Ritter said.