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Coronavirus

Coronavirus putting routine childhood vaccine schedule at risk

Pediatricians urge parents not to delay shots, offices have safety measures in place

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Katie Dawson of Minooka, who has three children - ages 6, 5 and 2 – rescheduled her 2-year-old’s well checkup shortly after the state's stay-at-home order went into place because the family’s pediatrician had just returned from overseas.

But the 5-year-old had his checkup scheduled for early April. When Dawson called to confirm that appointment, she was told the office was strictly seeing only well patients. So Dawson rescheduled the 2-year-old’s check-up for the same day and left the 6-year-old at home.

“We made sure to get the first appointment in the morning,” Dawson said. “They told us masks were required in order to come in. The doctors, the nurses, everyone was wearing masks…it’s a learning curve for everyone. And I think we’re all just trying to do our best to figure out what we’re supposed to be doing.”

Dr. Shelly Flais, an American Academy of Pediatrics national spokesperson and author of several AAP parenting books, who has offices in Bolingbrook, Plainfield, Naperville, North Aurora and West Chicago, said pediatricians want parents to stay on schedule for well child visits and vaccines and are finding ways to make those visits safe.

Flais, because she has multiple locations, sees well patients at certain offices and those who are ill at others. Some pediatricians see well patients half a day and sick patients the other half, with plenty of deep cleaning in between visits, she said.

“In terms of pediatric and primary health, we are very much open, and we very much want you to call us,” Flais said.

The danger of delaying vaccines can lead to other serious health consequences, such as a rise in measles, mumps and whooping cough cases, she said.

“The vaccine rate is down 70 to 80 percent nationwide, which is pretty scary,” Flais said.

Lisa Guardiola of Minooka has four children: Logan, 10; Dylan, 8; Emmagene, 5; and Juniper, 18 months. Juniper was recently due for a check-up and her MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine and Guardiola decided not to delay it because Emmagene has type 1 diabetes and is at higher risk for the virus that causes COVID-19.

When Guardiola called Whole Child Pediatrics in Yorkville, she was told the practice was only seeing kids who were well in the morning and then seeing those with illnesses in the afternoon.

Guardiola said she already has a high level of trust in the practice – their pediatrician had diagnosed Dylan's egg allergy and Emmagene’s diabetes – so Guardiola made the appointment.

“When you pull into the parking lot, you call and the nurse comes out to your car. She did all of our temperatures with a forehead thermometer then took us right back to a room,” Guardiola said. “So we bypassed the waiting room. We did not have to sit in there or touch anything. And at our visit, Juniper had her vaccines…we did not want her to get behind. We wanted her to stay protected.”

Well child visits are important to monitor growth and milestones in development, such as social skills and gross and fine motor skills, Flais said.

Also, with schools not physically open right now, kids need access to another trusted adult, especially if abuse might be occurring in their homes, Flais said.

Kids of all ages may be stressed because their routines are disrupted and social lives curtained, she said. This may affect their sleep, toilet training and overall behavior, she added.

Staff members at the Hygienic Institute in La Salle, which serves a 45-mile radius in a four-county area, have been discouraging parents from putting too much space in between the two- and four-month shots because they would not want to repeat them, said Trisha Brown, registered nurse. Some of the vaccinations designed for 1-year-olds could be delayed up to three months, but if a child is in day care, those likely will be required anyway.

Brown said some parents are scared to come in, but the Hygienic Institute is taking precautions, including sanitizing constantly, spacing chairs, allowing parents to wait in their cars until it's their turn and providing masks.

One La Salle County parent said she didn’t see anybody else bringing their children to the doctor for vaccinations last week.

“I just took Joanna in yesterday. She got her four-month vaccines from Dr. Patel at Peru Primary Clinic,” said Allison Schuler of Peru on Wednesday. “I didn’t see any other patients there and everyone working wore masks. They were all calm and friendly as usual. We just talked about the usual child developmental milestones and made an appointment for her six-month shots in two months. I felt safe there — I think they’re taking great precautions. I pray for my kids all the time, but I also know it’s important to rely on the wisdom of our available science.”

Dr. Victoria Johnson, with family medicine at Northwestern Medicine Delnor Hospital, said that she recommends to all parents of newborns and children under age 2 to keep up with the regular vaccination schedule.

“I think there was some hesitation, but for the most part, once we talk to the parents and let them know we're still seeing patients, they want to come in,” she said. “We worry about illness in newborns and children under 2 are the most vulnerable because their immune systems are still developing. There ís no danger if you put it off for a month or two, but you don't want to get too far behind on those.”

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