Parents Urged to Bring Kids in for Overdue Vaccinations
As COVID-19 began to spread in March, parents and their children’s doctors had a difficult choice to make: continue the well visits and vaccinations so important to children’s health, or postpone them to reduce the risk of infection?
Although the details varied, family and pediatric practices in the Einstein network reduced office visits, emphasized telehealth and focused on vaccinating the youngest and most vulnerable children.
Both in Philadelphia and Montgomery County, Einstein practices have since expanded well visits to include older children. And they have been reaching out to make sure kids get the vaccines they need for protection against life threatening diseases such as measles and meningitis.
“I want to let parents know that we’re open for business, that it’s important to get your children vaccinated,” says Christopher Scaven, DO, a family medicine doctor and Medical Director of Einstein Community Health Associates, the organization of Einstein primary care doctors in Philadelphia.
Avoiding Preventable Diseases
Pediatrician Mayssa Abuali, MD, agrees. “The last thing we want to see is a resurgence of vaccine-preventable diseases in the school setting. So, I think both schools and healthcare providers have to be very careful to ensure that children do have their full vaccines prior to starting school,” she says.
“In particular, as we enter the fall and winter viral respiratory season, I strongly urge all parents to vaccinate their kids against the flu,” says Dr. Abuali, Director, Einstein Inpatient Service at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children. “Influenza was very serious for children in the 2019-20 season, leading to a high hospitalization rate and 170 pediatric deaths nationwide.”
In the early days of the pandemic, many parents were reluctant to bring their children into the office for routine visits and shots. Doctors also were cautious.
“We were trying to keep them out of the office so they wouldn’t get sick, possibly bring anything home to their parents or grandparents or caregivers,” Dr. Scaven says.
Dr. Abuali says that some parents also canceled appointments. “There were parents that chose not to come in for the vaccinations because of fear of COVID and because of lack of transportation, when SEPTA went to lifeline service and limited their trips.”
Early Vaccinations Never Stopped
Einstein practices switched as many appointments as possible to telehealth – either phone or video. But those platforms don’t allow for vaccinations.
Offices continued to see infants, toddlers or both in person to ensure they received timely vaccinations.
J. Federico Andino, MD, of Montgomery Family Practice, sometimes took a hybrid approach. He would ask questions about the child’s development on the phone and then ask the parents to bring the child in for a brief exam and any needed vaccinations.
“I was contacting my patients personally, and asking them if they would feel comfortable bringing their children in for the shots because these are a lot of preventable illnesses that could harm children in the future,” he says.
By May, as the pandemic waned in the area, most offices expanded the age range of patients they were seeing for well visits and vaccines. Now most family and pediatric practices are seeing children of all ages.
Safety Procedures for Everyone
Einstein family and pediatric offices have taken a variety of steps to reduce the risk of infection and keep people safe. They include:
- Pre-screening patients by phone and seeing those with possible COVID-19 symptoms by telehealth only.
- Offering “curbside check-in” and other steps to get patients into an exam room quickly
- Enforcing social distancing for those who have to wait
- Requiring masks for all staff, parents and patients over age 2
- Cleaning exam rooms and equipment thoroughly between patients
Both pediatric and family practices are continuing to reach out to parents to schedule any appointments that were postponed.
And since COVID-19 has not disappeared, Dr. Andino also takes the time to educate kids about other ways to prevent disease.
“I teach them how to wash their hands, and they enjoy washing their hands like the doctors do,” he says. “And I teach the children the discipline of wearing a mask because you don’t want your mommy or daddy to get sick.”