Should parents skip well-child checkups and shots during COVID-19?

Investigations

AUSTIN (KXAN) – It’s a concern for Alexa Messer.

She didn’t want to leave the house for her nine-month-old son’s well-child checkup. These checkups are where children get their latest rounds of vaccines and parents learn more about their child’s growth and development.

“I think that safety has been such a huge concern for us,” says Messer. “We’re not having to get him in and out of the house, having to take a stroller in and out of the doctors office. We don’t have to worry about touching anything at the doctor’s office.”

Messer says her family had been going back and forth about a more concierge pediatrician — which included house calls. 

“We are bringing the office to the family,” explains Dr. Tim Porter with Modern Pediatrics. “I’ve come out to their home with my supplies, and my equipment, my vaccine cooler, and I’m going to deliver the primary care right here in their home.”

Dr. Porter says he’s hearing from more nervous families trying to figure out how they should handle well-child checkups during this pandemic. 

Vaccine rates dropping concerns pediatricians

The American Academy of Pediatrics has been telling doctors to maintain well-child checkups and vaccination schedules especially for younger kids. 

Dr. Ashlesha Kaushik, a spokesperson with the AAP, says vaccines are dropping at a dangerous level and that’s putting children at risk for measles, chicken pox and whooping cough.

“It’s just not for the patient, but it’s for the whole community around them. And especially for those children that you know, for some reason, cannot get their vaccines. Like the immunocompromised patients. The patients with cancer,” explains Dr. Kaushik. “We need to protect them. And by not vaccinating one child, it’s actually not just that child, but it’s the entire community which becomes at risk. As we saw last year with measles, it’s no surprise that these diseases can strike back.”

In Texas, Dr. Gary Floyd has been sounding the alarm for weeks. He’s a pediatrician in Fort Worth and on the board of the Texas Medical Association, which represents doctors across the state.

“We’ve got to encourage families to continue with well visits. Particularly, the younger…  they need their vaccinations. The last thing we need is a measles or pertussis or whooping cough outbreak in the midst of the COVID. That could be disastrous,” says Dr. Floyd. “And we are concerned that our immunizations rates are dropping because people are reluctant to come in.” 

Across the state, he says practices are reporting 10% to 30% decrease in the number of patients being seen because of fears. 

PCC (Physician’s Computer Company), a software company which develops health records for independent pediatricians across the country, says there has been a dramatic drop in the number of vaccinations. 

Since February 16, PCC shared data with KXAN that shows there was a 29% drop in the number of MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) vaccines. The data was gathered from pediatricians across the nations including Texas.

DTaP (diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis) shots dropped by 20% and HPV shots by 40% during the same time period, according to PCC.

“If everybody waits until this calms down, that’s going to be months. Then everybody’s… wanting to get in immediately because schools will be requesting forms and things like that,” says Dr. Floyd. “Those may be delayed for a few months, but sooner or later it’s all going to have to catch up.”

Dr. Floyd says new precautions at many practices around Texas include:

  • Scheduling well checkups in the morning and sick visits in the afternoon
  • Using telemedicine if vaccines are not required
  • Asking families to wait in the car until a nurse can escort everyone to the exam room designated for these type of visits
  • Staff wears protective gear and disinfects after each visit

Doctors making house calls

Wearing a mask and gloves Dr. Porter showed up at the Messer’s door step ready for baby Landon’s exam.

“After every patient I see I wipe everything down all the equipment. I use hand sanitizer for myself before examining my patients. I take my shoes off at the door to make sure we’re not bringing anything else in there,” explains Dr. Porter. 

Landon didn’t need any vaccines this time, but Dr. Porter checked his weight, height and development. 

“We don’t skip a beat. It’s important for this visit. I have questions about his development,” says Messer. “We’re not around other children right now… I want to make sure that developmentally he’s not behind for any reason. I also want to make sure we’re taking the proper precautions for COVID in general.”

Dr. Porter launched these home visits and virtual care for kids just a few weeks ago. He says they do take insurance.

“I want to give that peace of mind,” says Dr. Porter. “You’re going to be safe getting it at home in this way. That’s exactly what I’m trying to do — create peace of mind for families during this very scary uncertain time.”

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