Vaccinations plummeting over COVID-19 fears, two in three parents afraid to take kids to doctor

Pediatrician: “Coming in for vaccinations is important not only for protecting your child, but also to preserve herd immunity against these terrible diseases.”

ORLANDO, Fla. — A legitimate and safe COVID-19 vaccine is on everyone’s wish list these days. In the meantime, however, pre-existing vaccination rates across the U.S. are plummeting during the pandemic. Why is this happening? According to a recent survey, two-thirds of U.S. parents are afraid to bring their child to the pediatrician’s office due to coronavirus fears.

This significant decrease in the national vaccination rate is driving many health experts to warn that the next major health threat may end up being a preventable disease. If millions of children aren’t immunized against the flu, or measles, for example, it could result in a huge outbreak of such infectious illnesses.

The survey, conducted by Orlando Health, also notes that 84% of surveyed parents still believe vaccines are the best way to protect their children from infectious diseases. So, it seems many parents want to vaccinate their children, but can’t bring themselves to risk exposing their families to COVID-19 in a doctor’s office.

“It is imperative that parents keep their routine wellness visits with their child’s pediatrician,” says Dr. Alix Casler, chair of the Department of Pediatrics for Orlando Health Physician Associates, in a release. “While we are doing as many visits as possible virtually, coming in for vaccinations is important not only for protecting your child, but also to preserve herd immunity against these terrible diseases.”

Doctors adapting to ease coronavirus worries

Dr. Casler, a practicing pediatrician herself, says that she has made a number of adjustments at her own practice to ease parents’ worries. Families are now being seen one at a time, and patients are being asked to wait in their car up until its time to see her. Her clinic is also offering COVID-19 screenings for visitors.

“All it will take is a case of measles entering our community and we will see loss of life that is completely and totally unnecessary,” Dr. Casler explains. “It can be hard for people to grasp just how important universal vaccinations are because they’ve never seen how devastating these diseases can be. Measles and whooping cough outbreaks are a thing of the past thanks to vaccines, and we’d like to keep it that way.”

A significant portion of parents also express skepticism regarding certain vaccines. In all, 38% believe their child doesn’t necessarily need all of the vaccines recommended by doctors.

“The only reason that we have herd immunity against so many diseases is because upwards of 90 to 95 percent of children are vaccinated,” Dr. Casler adds. “Once we drop below that level, no one will be presumed safe.”

Back-to-school makes vaccinations especially important

The imminent return of physical school also represents another element in all of this. Cynthia Velasco says she’s very worried about her 5-year-old son AJ returning to school. “He’s so excited to go to what he calls ‘big boy school,'” Ms. Velasco says. “And while I’m confident that the schools are doing all they can to keep students safe, it makes me nervous that his immune system has been largely untested as we were socially distant for the past several months.”

Ms. Velasco says that AJ’s pediatrician has been great about staying up to date on his vaccinations.

“Making sure that he is protected from these diseases is really important to me, and because I know our pediatrician’s office is taking steps to keep their office safe, staying up to date on his vaccinations far outweighs the risk of getting sick at that appointment.”

Also, while every vaccination is important, Dr. Casler says this year is especially vital for flu vaccines. She says every member of the family should receive their influenza shot as early as possible this year.

“The fact is that we have a safe and effective method to reduce the impact of influenza through a vaccine. We’re hoping that people will be lining up to get their flu shots so we can at least take something off of the table in terms of very serious illness as the nation continues to battle this pandemic,” she concludes.

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