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Word to wise: Vaccines still important

Amid these uncertain, scary times, when COVID-19 refuses to release its deadly grip on this country, the proverbial seeds are being planted — at least in some parts of the nation — for other health problems, these involving children.

There have been no numbers released about how prevalent that situation might be here and, indeed, in the rest of central Pennsylvania, but it is important for that information to be ascertained and disseminated, and for action to prevail, if necessary.

According to an April 23 New York Times article headlined “Vaccine rates drop dangerously as parents avoid doctor’s visits,” Times writer Jan Hoffman, who reports on behavioral health and health law, wrote that parents are postponing well-child checkups, including immunization shots, putting millions of children at risk of exposure to preventable deadly diseases.

This land does not need more heartache than it already is enduring, especially when such unwanted circumstances involving children are avoidable. Still, the fear-based hesitation is understandable, considering the COVID-19 unknowns and the infection and death tolls that the coronavirus has been wreaking.

In her article, Hoffman wrote, “in the last few years, early childhood immunization rates have been slipping in some hot spots around the country, and in 2019, the United States very nearly lost its measles elimination status.”

Her article points out the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Family Physicians are urging doctors to maintain vaccination schedules as rigorously as reasonably possible, particularly for the youngest children.

Meanwhile, Vaccinate Your Family, a national nonprofit group, is urging families to set reminders to reschedule vaccine appointments that they have canceled.

Dr. Sean T. O’Leary, a member of the pediatrics academy’s committee on infectious diseases, was on target when he voiced the opinion that “the last thing we want as the collateral damage of COVID-19 are outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases, which we will almost certainly see if there continues to be a drop in vaccine uptake.”

Hopefully, lessons from COVID-19 will cause some of those parents to rethink their anti-vaccine attitudes.

According to the April 23 Times article, the doses that states distribute in a federally funded program for uninsured patients, called Vaccines for Children, have dropped significantly since the beginning of March.

Another concern is that if booster shots are missed for diseases such as measles, mumps and rubella for 4- and 5-year-olds, and for tetanus and whooping cough for 11-year-olds, immunity will begin to wane.

There are health officials wondering if school registration policies might need to be adjusted — whether states will ease school vaccination requirements temporarily.

As the April 23 article notes, the loud, consistent public message over the last six weeks has been to keep children at home and to take them to the doctor only if necessary.

However, parents need to keep alert to the issue of their children’s vaccine schedules and be open to acting responsibly on their physicians’ recommendations — here and everywhere else, now as well as in less scarier times.

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