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Charleston experts warn that this is no time for kids to fall behind on vaccinations

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Baby

This pandemic is showing us what can happen when you don’t have a vaccine to prevent illness, says Alex Phipps, clinical manager at Roper St. Francis. It’s all the more reason to take preventive measures for babies where you can. Dreamstime

The hormone fluctuations that coincide with giving birth, along with the threat of a colossal pandemic, can be anxiety-inducing.

That’s why, when my daughter’s pediatrician called to remind us of her two-month checkup, I nearly hung up the phone. The thought of leaving the house with a newborn is frightening enough without the gray cloud of COVID hanging over us. The coronavirus makes even a simple errand feel like you’re heading into a war zone. But still, I begrudgingly took her in for her appointment so she could get her first set of vaccinations, protecting her against diseases like whooping cough, rotavirus, diphtheria and polio. 

“All of the diseases we’re protecting against are still out there and this isn’t the time for underlying conditions,” says Alex Phipps, clinical manager at Roper St. Francis. 

This pandemic, Phipps says, is showing us firsthand what can happen when you don’t have a vaccine to prevent illness. It’s all the more reason to take preventive measures where you can.

Well visits can uncover subtle symptoms to diagnose a developing illness before it gets out of hand, she says. Signs of disease, such as low temperature and weight loss in babies, aren’t something you would necessarily notice at home.

Alex Phipps

Alex Phipps is clinical manager at Roper St. Francis. Provided

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, pediatricians should still “prioritize in-person newborn care, newborn well visits and immunization of infants and young children through 24 months of age whenever possible.”

The primary vaccine series given from birth through 18 months of age are essential to help protect babies from infections such as whooping cough, meningitis, pneumonia, measles and chickenpox, which are particularly dangerous for children under  2 and those who are immunocompromised, says Dr. Kristina Gustafson, pediatric primary care director at Medical University of South Carolina Health. 

“Because these infections can lead to death or lifelong problems and are preventable through the administration of this primary or initial vaccine series, it is highly advisable that parents take babies for the initial vaccines right now,” Gustafson says.

Telehealth does have its place and is becoming more of an option for children with chronic conditions such as ADHD, allergic rhinitis/conjunctivitis, obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure (if the family has home monitoring-equipment). According to Gustafson, even some acute issues like developmental concerns, sleep problems, hospital follow-ups, acne, eczema, diaper rash and thrush can be conducted virtually. 

“Telehealth visits have become an alternative to in-person office visits for particular health conditions, with most insurance companies applying the same coverage or co-pay as they do for an in-office visit,” says Gustafson. “Based on this, all primary care physicians, including pediatricians, as well as most specialists, are now identifying patients that they can provide care to through telehealth without the patient having to leave home.”

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Most offices also have developed a system to separate well and sick children, done differently depending on the size of the practice. In larger practices, entire offices are devoted to well checks and vaccinations and in smaller practices, waiting rooms are separated into sections.

Gustafson,Kristina-Peds

Dr. Kristina Gustafson, pediatric primary care director at MUSC Health. 

If feasible, Gustafson says, parents of sick children are asked to wait in their car until they are ushered into the office through a different entrance from that of the well-visit children. In some cases, sick visits are being conducted carside so that kids don’t even need to enter the office, and other offices are giving vaccines carside. 

Most pediatricians have quickly adapted to the coronavirus threat and for many of the parents that I spoke with, office visits were relatively seamless. My pediatrician’s office did only newborn well visits and kids that required vaccinations. The waiting room was empty and you could wait in your car until you were called. 

Christina Kowalishin of Charleston had a similarly smooth experience when she went in for her 7-month-old son’s flu booster. The office was only taking healthy appointments in the morning and sick patients in the afternoon, and everyone was wearing a mask. She says the office has since begun offering drive-up appointments. 

Dede Bishop Kennedy of Mount Pleasant had to take her 10-year-old son Jack in for a sinus infection. 

“We were the only patients in the waiting-room area. We stayed six feet from everyone except the pediatrician, who had on a mask. I prayed a ton! I was nervous but we had to get it resolved, and once I got there, I felt so much better.”

Kennedy says that it was the “anticipation that had (her) all jammed up mentally.”

I’m glad I’m not the only one. Because for me, and many parents just like me, the threat of this invisible killer is causing undue parental anxiety. We’re parents and all we want is to protect our children, and in this age of COVID-19, sometimes it’s unclear how best to do it. 

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