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While parents are keeping their children safe at home during the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Howard Smart, who chairs the department of Pediatrics at Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Group, encourages sticking to their child’s immunization schedule, especially for younger children.
While there is flexibility built into the immunization schedule as children get older, he says there is much less flexibility in infancy.
“The youngest infants have less developed immune systems and without support would not be able to fight off certain infections,” says Dr. Smart. “Newborn infants do receive some immunity from their mothers.”
Dr. Smart cautions that this works well for certain diseases such as chickenpox, but not well for other diseases such as bacterial meningitis or whooping cough. Therefore, he stresses that infants receive their immunizations on time, and repeated on schedule, to ensure they do not acquire any of these life-threatening infections.
“Delaying immunization in infancy prolongs the period during which infants will be unprotected from these diseases,” he says.
While the COVID-19 pandemic has been the reason given by some patients for avoiding or delaying medical care, Dr. Smart says this hasn’t been an issue with his patients.
“Thankfully, we’ve had very few parents refusing to bring their infants and young toddlers in for vaccinations because of COVID-19 concerns,” he says. “Some parents delay immunizations for other reasons, though. Some are concerned that the vaccines are given too early or that too many are given at the same time.”
Dr. Smart says these concerns, while well-meaning, are not based on scientific evidence. He notes that the immune system is quite capable of managing a handful of unique new antigens at the same time. Also, multiple studies have shown that children are no more likely to experience a vaccine reaction if multiple vaccines are given on the same day, compared to splitting them up on different days.
Bringing their young children into the clinic should not be a concern to parents, says Dr. Smart.
“To add a measure of safety and to allay parents’ concerns about exposure when bringing infants to the pediatrician's office, we have been seeing infants and young toddlers under age 2 during the first half of the day in all of our pediatric offices, and reserving the afternoons for older children,” he says.
In addition, parents have been asked not to bring siblings along to the infant's visits to reduce the number of people in the waiting area. And, only one parent is asked to attend the appointment. Another parent or caregiver who wants to attend is encouraged to video conference during the visit.
While the COVID-19 pandemic has been dominating everyone's thoughts these last several months, Dr. Smart offers some perspective on immunizations.
“We cannot lose sight of the fact that pediatric immunizations have been saving tens of thousands of lives every year for the last several decades,” he says. “It is safe to bring an infant to the pediatrician, and it is essential to keep up our immunization rates so that we do not see a resurgence of vaccine-preventable diseases.”
Note: the COVID-19 vaccine has not yet been approved for children under age 16.
If you're looking for a pediatrician for your child, your care at Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Centers begins with a doctor who truly listens. Video visits are with your own doctor. In-person or virtual urgent care is available daily. And Sharp accepts almost all health insurance. Choose a Sharp Rees-Stealy pediatrician today.
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