Schools closed for the remainder of the year. Swimming pools closed for the summer. Children should not play at parks. Sound familiar?
While these headlines may be new to those of us who are parents today, our parents and grandparents remember a time that these closures and the fear that surrounded them were an annual occurrence. Now, the diseases that scared people years ago could come back if we don’t do everything we can to prevent them.
April 2020 marks the 65th anniversary of the approval of the oral polio vaccine. Here in La Crosse County, more than 800 first and second graders participated in the final trials of this vaccine.
During the next few years in the U.S., vaccinations against polio meant children could freely play at the park or the pool without fear of respiratory failure, paralysis and death.
We don’t have to go back more than 65 years to see what happens when we don’t maintain adequate vaccination rates. In 2019, due to under-vaccination in a number of communities, the United States had the highest number of measles cases in more than two decades. Influenza killed 168 children. COVID-19 has killed 3.
We are now in the throes of a worldwide pandemic. COVID-19 is permeating every aspect of our existence. The toll on society has been extraordinarily high. However, the biggest threat to children may not be COVID-19 itself, but other vaccine-preventable diseases.
Another effect of the COVID-19 pandemic has been a further decrease in vaccination rates not only worldwide, but here in our communities.
If this trend continues, we will face not only the fear of COVID-19 infection, but the threat of contracting measles, polio or whooping cough — diseases far more deadly for children.
As pediatricians and parents ourselves, we understand the fear of exposing children to COVID-19. We share your concerns. We have also cared for children with vaccine-preventable diseases.
We know firsthand that while we need to prevent exposure of children to COVID-19, we cannot allow measles and meningitis to re-emerge. We cannot afford epidemics on top of this pandemic.
The bottom line? You should make sure your children are still getting their routine vaccinations.
The health-care community has multiple strategies to keep you and your children safe from COVID-19 and still provide the care your child needs.
By checking temperatures at the door, maintaining social distance in waiting rooms, asking that all people wear masks, and providing separate times and locations for ill children to be seen, we can keep you and your children safe.
The COVID-19 pandemic paints a stark picture of the world in the pre-vaccine era.
We again have pools closed and parks empty. Families in the La Crosse community stepped up to stamp out disease before. We can do it again.
Help us keep vaccine-preventable diseases from coming back and harming children here and across the world. Keep your child’s vaccines up to date.
Raj Naik, MD, FAAP, is a champion of vaccinating children and section head of general pediatrics at Gundersen Health System. Jennifer Kleven, MD, MPH, FAAP, is a pediatric hospitalist, child health advocate and chair of pediatrics for Gundersen Health System.
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