Child vaccination rates have dropped since covid-19 tightened its grip on Arkansas two months ago, prompting concerns of outbreaks of some preventable diseases.
Maintaining awareness on the spread and dangers of covid-19 during the ongoing pandemic should not have any effect on the way parents protect their children from other infectious diseases, health officials have said.
The latest trend shows that Arkansas parents haven't been as consistent lately on vaccinating their children, so they are being reminded by those in the medical field to reengage with their pediatricians and get back on track with their children's check-ups and immunizations.
The drop-off was easy to predict at the start of the covid-19 emergency, said Marcy Doderer, president and CEO of Arkansas Children's Hospital.
"It's been on our minds since the early days of the pandemic," she said. "We knew a downstream impact of this would be that families would be unable to follow their usual routines."
The Arkansas Department of Health has tracked how vaccines are being administered. Doderer, who cited data from the department, said there has been a 30% year-to-year decrease in vaccinations during the past two months.
A lot of it has to do with parents keeping their children away from areas they think have the greatest exposure to covid-19, she said. That includes doctor's offices.
"That's the message we're trying to shift," Doderer said. "[Medical facilities] have responded to this crisis with a great amount of agility. They're able to administer care in a safe manner and in an efficient manner. ... You see safety-focused practices playing out in all places."
Doderer said doctors are encouraging parents to resume their doctors appointments and seek the appropriate care for the "usual bumps and breaks of childhood."
Arkansas Children's in Little Rock and Arkansas Children's Northwest in Springdale are open for appointments. That also goes for all of their affiliated clinics and emergency departments.
The World Health Organization estimates that, globally, vaccines prevent 2-3 million deaths per year. Last year, the international public group named "vaccine hesitancy," or reluctance to vaccinate children, among its top threats to public health.
In April, the agency warned of the reemergence of vaccine-preventable disease if vaccination rates slow during the pandemic, pointing to a measles outbreak that killed 6,000 in the Democratic Republic of Congo during that region's Ebola emergency.
Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the World Health Organization, said in a statement that vaccine-preventable diseases will "come roaring back" if immunizations are not administered.
Dr. Rick Barr, pediatrician in chief for Arkansas Children's, gave the same message in a hospital statement Friday.
"Parents should not fear taking their child to the doctor," he said. "Vaccines are scientifically proven to be among the safest and most effective ways to protect children and babies from diseases ranging from measles to meningitis. If routine care is delayed, we will see a rise in other health problems that may be more harmful to children than covid-19."
National data have resembled state data when it comes to the decline of childhood immunizations during the pandemic.
In a May 15 report published by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, researchers analyzed data and found declines in childhood vaccination rates that corresponded with the national emergency.
"The identified declines in routine pediatric vaccine ordering and doses administered might indicate that U.S. children and their communities face increased risks for outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases," researchers wrote.
Five percent of all Arkansans who have tested positive for covid-19 have been 17 years old or younger, according to state statistics.
Doderer said parents had a reason in March to be fearful about taking their children to the doctor, but now that Arkansas has shown mostly encouraging statistics with regards to covid-19 infections among children, "the time is right" for parents to get back into their safety-first routines.
"We need our children to be vaccinated so they can have a healthier tomorrow," Doderer said.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends multiple well-child care visits per year for children 3 years old and younger, as well as annual primary care visits for older children and adolescents.
Metro on 05/25/2020