While Oklahomans are urged to use extreme caution during the continued spread of the coronavirus pandemic, doctors say it is important to remain current on child vaccinations in order to avoid additional outbreaks of measles, whooping cough, chickenpox or other preventable diseases.
Patrice Aston, a pediatrician who owns A to Z Pediatrics in Oklahoma City, said she has seen increased appointment cancelations from parents who fear bringing their child to a doctor’s office and possibly being exposed to COVID-19.
Some of the canceled appointments are annual well child visits that include vaccinations.
“It’s imperative that those (vaccination schedules) stay on track,” Aston said. “I’m worried that if (children) don’t get their whooping cough vaccines, or their measles or chickenpox vaccines in a few months we will have outbreaks of that.”
Children do not appear to be more vulnerable to COVID-19 than adults but they can still get the virus and spread it, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Donna Tyungu of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at The Children’s Hospital at OU Medicine said children should be vaccinated if they can safely do so.
But she said large scale social distancing may mitigate another outbreak if a vaccination is missed.
“Unfortunately it is starting to become unsafe for many to go outside for well child appointments,” Tyungu said. “If most people stay home, the risk of transmission of vaccine preventable illness should remain low, even if there is a temporary lapse in vaccine administration.”
Oklahoma’s vaccination rate has increased slightly in recent years with 91.4 percent of all public school kindergarten students up to date on vaccinations, although requests for exemptions have also been on the rise.
Aston said the cancelation of appointments at her office doesn’t appear to be because parents have become more fearful of vaccinations, but rather an effort to avoid public exposure to COVID-19.
Tyungu said OU Children’s Physicians is still scheduling vaccination visits with the patient and a single visitor screened at the entrance before being allowed into the clinic.
Aston’s practice is also screening patients and has a separate entrance for those with coronavirus or other illness symptoms.
Earlier this week, Gov. Kevin Stitt ordered the suspension of all elective surgeries, minor medical procedures and non-emergency dental procedures until April 7.
Some of the state’s largest hospitals have also banned visitors for most adult patients.
Jamie Dukes, a Department of Health spokesperson, said Oklahomas should continue to see doctors for vaccinations.
“The Oklahoma State Department of Health encourages Oklahoma families to maintain the current schedule for childhood vaccinations and recommends families to contact their primary provider or county health department for guidance on how best to schedule an appointment during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Dukes said in a statement to The Frontier.
Stitt’s order also removed some barriers to telemedicine, which Aston has adopted for families who want to avoid leaving the house.
“I was negative about (telemedicine) at first, but now I think it’s a good thing and it works,” Aston said. “You can’t test for the flu and you can’t really test for strep, but parents can use a flashlight and I can see their throat and get a pretty good idea.”