COLUMBUS, Ga (WRBL)- The pandemic impacted– and continues to disrupt– most aspects of our lives. According to Columbus pediatrician Dr. Hampton Vernon with Piedmont Physicians Pediatrics of Midtown Columbus, the pandemic ushered a steep drop nationwide in parents taking their children for immunizations.
Dr. Vernon says many states have seen a 40-50% decline in childhood immunizations since the early spring. He and his medical colleagues nationwide are concerned.
“We’re not trying to scare people. I think, it makes us nervous when we see that last year we had more measles cases in the United States than we’d had in 25 years,” said Dr. Vernon. “So there’s increasing hesitancy, frankly, in some areas about vaccinations, and you’re seeing things like whooping cough and measles which we declared eradicated in 2000, actually making a comeback . . . [so] I think vaccinations are just about the most important thing we do as pediatricians.”
That’s why he and his colleagues at Piedmont Columbus Regional say it’s more important than ever to raise awareness of the need for parents to keep their children on track with vaccinations. August is National Immunization Awareness Month.
“This is a unique time to have this awareness month,” said Dr. Vernon.
Dr. Vernon points out that fear of COVID-19 should not keep parents from taking their children to the doctor for scheduled vaccines.
“Most pediatrics offices. . .at this point are taking tons of precautions to keep people safe and to keep kids safe so that they can come back to the office and get these vaccines that they really need,” said Dr. Vernon.
Many students locally–and across America– started school online. But that does not mean schools are not requiring students to be current on vaccinations.
“Most schools still make that a requirement, depending on where you are, to have your vaccine record up-to-date. Hopefully, the thought is that a lot of kids are going to be back, physically, in school, sooner, rather than later, depending on how things go,” said Dr. Vernon.
When it comes to when your child needs to receive immunizations for school, parents should keep the numbers 4, 11 and 16 in mind.
“In terms of going back to school, and parents wondering about back-to-school vaccinations, four years [of age] is a big one for a few different vaccines, and then 11 years [of age] as well, and 16 [years of age].”
For any parents who worry about the possibility of dangerous vaccine side effects, Dr. Vernon believes fear of adverse reactions should not stop parents from seeing that their children are immunized.
He says horror stories found on the Internet about negative reactions to vaccines sometimes make parents shy about their children getting shots. But in Dr. Vernon’s professional opinion, the benefits of vaccines far outweigh any possible risks.
“I think any doctor that tells you that a bad vaccine reaction is impossible is not being truthful. But you have to look at how often those things occur, and they are extraordinarily rare, and the risk of say, something like whooping cough or measles, or what that would do to a child, versus the risk of an adverse vaccine reaction, the benefits of vaccinating far, far outweigh those tiny risks,” said Dr. Vernon.
Dr. Vernon stresses, however, that parents should make a point of taking their children for a pediatric visit annually.
“We want to see kids yearly because we are doing important things besides vaccinating, like checking that their growth and development are normal, that their blood pressure is normal, vital checks, doing a full physical with them. I’m screening for things that parents may not even think about,” said Dr. Vernon. “Screening for even things like masses in their abdomen, different types of cancers, heart murmurs, all sorts of things that we want to update on a regular basis to make sure that kids are doing great and not having any of those concerns come up, even if they seem overall healthy otherwise.”
Dr. Vernon practices medicine with Piedmont Physicians Pediatrics of Midtown Columbus.