Parenting in the age of COVID-19 has presented unique and stressful challenges and San Juan Basin Public Health acknowledges that this is a tough time to raise kids. We know parents are doing their best to keep their kids healthy while also trying to manage the numerous struggles presented by the pandemic.
With COVID-19 disrupting so many aspects of our lives, it is not surprising that a negative result of our altered routines is families missing well-child visits and routinely scheduled vaccines. Although there is more to keep track of this year, SJBPH reminds families to schedule routine childhood immunizations, especially the MMR vaccine against measles, mumps and rubella.
The MMR vaccine prevents serious, contagious and even life-threatening diseases in children. Measles is so contagious that if one person has it, up to 90% of the people close to that person who are not immune will also become infected, according to the according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There were more U.S. cases of measles in 2019 than in any year since 1992, and most of those who got measles were not vaccinated.
Pediatricians across the country worry about impending outbreaks from preventable diseases, like highly contagious measles, because so many children have missed these important vaccinations during the pandemic.
Although Colorado recently celebrated reaching a goal for kindergarten vaccines rates statewide, our local area vaccination rates are below where they should be to prevent childhood disease outbreaks. Immunization rates in La Plata and Archuleta counties range among area schools from about 77% to 96% of children being up to date on vaccines required for school. Most of these schools are well below the threshold of 95% needed for community immunity. While we have not had a measles outbreak in Colorado yet, public health experts believe that this may be on the horizon unless we increase vaccination rates.
Some children have exemptions to attend school without having required vaccines. SJBPH encourages all parents to prioritize vaccinations for their children to protect them from deadly diseases while also protecting other children with serious health conditions who are unable to get vaccinated because of their compromised health.
Equally important this year is making sure everyone in your family gets the flu vaccine. As we near the flu season, health experts are warning that the addition of another respiratory illness on top of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic could overburden the health care system, strain testing capacity and increase the risk of catching both diseases at once.
No one ever wants to be hospitalized with the flu, but it could be especially tough this year. Hospitals may be strained by COVID-19 cases, COVID-19 precautions could mean that people couldn’t visit sick family members and vital medical equipment could be scarce. Having the flu and COVID-19 at the same time could make you more susceptible to serious health complications.
Each year, the flu vaccine contains three to four different strains of the disease that officials guess will be the ones most in circulation during the current season. Even when a flu vaccine is not an exact match to the strain that winds up being most common in a season, it prompts the body to produce an immune response that will limit the severity of a person’s sickness.
Everyone 6 months of age and older should get a flu vaccine every flu season with rare exceptions, according to the CDC. Although some may have concerns about exposure to COVID-19, doctor’s offices and other vaccine providers are working extra hard to ensure that it’s safe to visit them for vaccines and other care.
Currently, flu shots are widely available at pharmacies, grocery stores or at doctor’s offices. Young children can get vaccines at their pediatrician’s office or at SJBPH because pharmacies rarely provide vaccines for children younger than 8 years old.
SJBPH appreciates all of the efforts made by people in our communities to help control the spread of COVID-19 through diligent public health precautions. We hope that you will add getting childhood and flu vaccines to your list of steps you’re taking to keep everyone safe and healthy as we all make our way through the unique challenges created by this pandemic.
Claire Ninde is director of communications at San Juan Basin Public Health.