SPRINGFIELD — It’s a message all parents and caregivers need to hear, said Dr. Chrystal Wittcopp, medical director of Pediatrics at Baystate High Street Health Center – Pediatrics.
“Although COVID-19 is a very serious illness and can affect children, the illnesses to protect against with vaccinations are more common and more harmful as far as we can tell for young children. It is critical to still protect them against those diseases in this COVID era,” she noted. However, “since March, we have been seeing the rate of under-immunized infants double from 25% to 50%. This means that, in our community, 50% of babies under 18 months old have not completed their immunization series.”
Statewide, the Massachusetts Department of Health has reported a 68% decrease in pediatric vaccinations. Missing important vaccinations puts children at risk of preventable diseases such as measles, whooping cough, meningitis, and other life-threatening illnesses. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that, for children born between 1994 and 2018, immunizations will prevent about 419 million illnesses, 8 million hospitalizations, and 936,000 early deaths.
So, why are parents skipping child wellness visits, which often include necessary vaccinations?
“They are concerned for their child and themselves that they might pick up the novel coronavirus while visiting their pediatrician’s office. But we have taken every precaution to keep our offices safe for our young visitors and their parents,” said Dr. John O’Reilly, chief of General Pediatrics at Baystate Children’s Hospital.
At Baystate’s pediatric primary-care practices, new safety and infection-control procedures are in place. Baystate High Street Health Center Pediatrics will be holding vaccine-only clinics on select Saturdays in June to provide access to those families who have difficulty coming into the office during the week.