These are scary times, and many parents are choosing to keep their babies and children home, even if it means skipping scheduled vaccinations. Here’s why you should make sure your little ones are still getting their shots.
If you’re thinking twice about taking your baby or young child to a clinic or doctor’s office to get their routine vaccinations, you’re not alone. Around the world, vaccinations are dropping as parents prioritise keeping their children isolated, particularly from doctor’s rooms where they may come into contact with Covid-19 infected patients.
The problem is that while Covid-19 continues to be a health risk, there are 14 serious childhood diseases that vaccinations protect our children from. Unfortunately, the current disruptions in vaccination schedules could result in an outbreak of these entirely preventable illnesses.
Why are vaccinations so necessary?
The diseases that vaccinations can protect against include measles, mumps, influenza (flu), tetanus, polio, and whooping cough (pertussis). These are all serious but preventable diseases if children follow an immunisation schedule.
Measles: Much more contagious than Covid-19, measles can result in pneumonia, the fatal inflammation of the brain (encephalitis) and other complications requiring hospital care.
Mumps: Infections resulting from mumps include encephalitis and meningitis, which is the inflammation of the brain and spinal cord membranes. Mumps can cause hearing or fertility problems later on.
Whooping cough: Whooping cough is particularly deadly for babies. About half of all infants infected with pertussis require hospital care.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), vaccination schedules for children born between 1994 and 2018 will prevent an estimated 419 million illnesses, 26.8 million hospitalisations, and 936 000 deaths amongst immunised children. Unfortunately, gaps in immunisations will impact these numbers on a global scale.
We do not have figures for babies born in 2019 and 2020, but comparing the pre- and post-Covid-19 electronic health records from 1 000 paediatric practices across the United States reveals that measles, mumps and rubella vaccinations have already dropped by 50%, and diphtheria and whooping cough vaccinations have dropped by 42%.
How do vaccinations work?
The science behind vaccinations is based on our immune systems. When an inactivated form of a bacteria or virus is introduced to our bodies through a vaccination, our immune systems learn to fight the infection by creating antibodies. Because it’s an inactivated bacteria or virus, it does not make us sick, but we do build up those critical antibodies.
This means that the immune system of a child who has had all of their measles vaccinations, for example, will already know how to fight the disease if they are ever exposed to it.
However, most vaccinations don’t work with just one dose. Postponing early vaccines for babies and young children could create a vaccine gap that leaves them exposed when they return to interacting with other children.
How can I safely vaccinate my children?
Covid-19 is scary, and there are many reasons to be cautious during this uncertain time. The good news is that current research suggests that if a child contracts Covid-19, it tends to be mild.
The illnesses that we vaccinate against in immunisation schedules, on the other hand, are not. To ensure that your baby does not end up with a vaccine gap, medical professionals recommend sticking to immunisation schedules as closely as possible.
If your baby or child is due for a vaccination, call your local GP or clinic and ask how they are safely offering vaccinations during this time. Some clinics, paediatricians and nurses will come to your home, while others are scheduling ‘well child’ visits at different times of the day to sick visits to limit exposure of healthy children.
Remain outside until it is time for your appointment. Your clinic or doctor’s rooms will most likely be implementing this system anyway to reduce the number of people in waiting rooms.
Wear a mask, wash your hands and sanitise. Very young children cannot wear masks, so adhere to social distancing rules and ensure that any surfaces you place them on have been sanitised.
To find out more about child immunisations, and to download an immunisation schedule, visit our child immunisation page.