(WHTM) — With youth as young as 12 now able to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, doctors worried that caregivers would have to choose whether their children would receive the coronavirus vaccine or other routine immunizations first. Updated guidance from the CDC means that is no longer an issue.
Initial CDC guidance recommended a 14-day interval between administering the COVID-19 vaccine and any other vaccinations, but that guidance was recently updated as the CDC collected new data. Now, experts say that the coronavirus shot can be co-administered with other vaccines, and timing no longer is a concern.
“It’s not an either/or situation,” Dr. Christopher Russo, director of pediatrics for WellSpan Health said. Russo notes that this updated guidance is helpful for teens heading to summer camps or back to in-person schooling in the fall, where they may be required to have certain routine vaccinations as well as the COVID-19 vaccine.
Additionally, it means caregivers and their children don’t have to decide between protection from the coronavirus or protection from other illnesses. “A child comes into your office [and] you want to be able to give them all the vaccines that are available, and so we thought that might be a barrier to some parents where they’d have to choose…and now we can say, ‘Actually, we can do both for you,'” Russo said.
Decreased in-person visits to the doctor’s office at the start of the pandemic had some worried that children were missing their routine vaccinations, which could have implications for individual and community health in the future.
A study published in the Mortality and Morbidity Weekly Report of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found that vaccine providers ordered fewer non-influenza routine vaccines for children from January-April 2020 than they did from January-April 2019. “The decline began the week after the national emergency declaration,” states the report, which was published last May.
Dr. Pia Fenimore, the vice-chair of pediatrics at Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health, says that Lancaster General Health did see children falling behind on their vaccines at the start of the pandemic.
“That was because a lot of parents were afraid to come in for checkups, a lot of parents were unable to come in for checkups,” says Fenimore, but “as soon as healthcare providers started to pick up on this, we really started reaching out to those parents and getting those kids in for their routine immunizations.”
The Pennsylvania Department of Health offered guidance for facilities distributing routine vaccines that included spatial or temporal separation of regular well visits and sick visits. Fenimore says that pediatricians at her facility would even meet families in the parking lot to give children their shots in their cars, and she believes that they were able to prevent children in the community from falling behind on their vaccinations.
Russo says that WellSpan has seen a decline in visits to outpatient pediatric offices, as have facilities around the country, but that decrease has mostly been in visits due to illness rather than routine checkups.
COVID-19 safety precautions appear to have prevented other common illnesses in children, which likely led to the decrease in sick visits, Russo explains, while the number of regular visits (during which children receive their shots) remained stable.
In accordance with Pennsylvania DOH guidelines, Russo notes that vaccinating infants and young toddlers has been prioritized during the pandemic, as that is a critical time period when kids receive many of their routine immunizations.
Although providers have been able to get many young patients vaccinated, Fenimore says there are likely some children and teens who still haven’t received their shots due to the pandemic. “I would just urge those parents to get those children caught up because the last thing we want when we get out of this current pandemic is an outbreak of measles or something like that,” Fenimore said.
Individuals can get easily caught up on most routine vaccinations if they’ve missed any, and Fenimore encourages them to do so as soon as possible.
Children who miss initial vaccines or booster shots are at greater risk of catching the illnesses against which the vaccines protect them. And just as reaching herd immunity is a major part of ending the COVID-19 pandemic, too many individuals who aren’t vaccinated against other illnesses can enable a disease outbreak in their community.
On top of that, many schools require students to have certain vaccinations to attend. “We want to make sure that come fall, we have everybody caught up and ready to go back to school in person because we want kids to feel like the fall is as normal as [possible],” Fenimore said.
While vaccine hesitancy has been a challenge for healthcare providers administering the COVID-19 vaccine, that same hesitancy does not seem to have transferred to routine vaccinations. Russo says that caregivers are generally more familiar and more comfortable with the routine immunizations, which have been out for a long time.
(Russo says that the COVID-19 vaccines are safe and important for children, who can face severe health complications from the illness. He and other providers work with hesitant adults to explain the importance of the newer vaccine.)
Fenimore says she’s observed less hesitancy for routine vaccines since the start of the pandemic. “I think that’s for two reasons. One is that parents really want to make sure that their kids stay healthy because we know that if you have other medical problems and you do get COVID-19, that you can become sicker,” Fenimore said.
Fenimore also suspects that the attention given to the development of the coronavirus vaccines “has really shed light on how safe our process is and how thorough our process is here in the United States.” She thinks caregivers may be more confident about their children receiving routine vaccines because they have been given more insight into how the shots are developed and approved.
As youth catch up on routine vaccinations and receive the COVID-19 shot, Fenimore encourages caregivers to get vaccinated as well. “If a parent has been hesitant to get the vaccine for themselves, but yet they want to make sure that their child’s covered, it would be a great family project to go and all get it done together,” she said.
For information about COVID-19 vaccines in Pennsylvania, visit abc27.com/vaccine.