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Pediatrician Stresses Ongoing Need For Childhood Vaccines, Even During The Epidemic

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

The coronavirus pandemic has meant that much of routine medical care - care not related to the virus - has shifted to telehealth, or may not be happening at all. That means many children may have a harder time getting vaccines - vaccines that protect them, and anyone with whom they come into contact, from diseases such as mumps, rubella, and the highly-contagious measles. So, what is the risk that we could emerge from this coronavirus public health threat only to face another? Well, that's a question for Dr. Sally Goza. She is president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, and a pediatrician herself. Dr. Goza, welcome.

SALLY GOZA: Thank you for having me.

KELLY: Give us a sense of of what is happening right now. Obviously, a doctor can't give a vaccine during a telemedicine appointment. Can parents still take their kids into their regular pediatrician and get their regularly scheduled vaccines?

GOZA: The American Academy of Pediatrics is recommending that we still see patients in person for well visits, and especially those for the children under age 2 who need the routine vaccines, if at all possible in your community. A lot of communities are still able to do this. Pediatricians have been very good about changing how they do things in their office. A lot of practices now will see well visits in the morning, and only see sick visits in the afternoon. Most of the sick visits - a lot of the sick visits have transitioned to telehealth visits as well. So, it's really important for people to call their pediatrician to find out what their practice is doing at this time.

KELLY: And, just to make sure I'm crystal clear on this, if I have a young child, you're saying it is safer for them - it is better for their health to take them in, bring them into their doctor's office, get the vaccine. That is safer than saying, maybe we'll let this slide a few weeks, a couple months, and just do it later when things feel safer.

GOZA: We know that if we do not get our children vaccinated, and have children vaccinated, that we are at risk for a vaccine-preventable outbreak, such as we've had with the measles in the recent past. We could have whooping cough, and we could have young children still get meningitis if they don't get the vaccines to protect against meningitis. So it is critical for those children to come in and get their vaccines as close to as on-time as they can. Delaying can cause major problems.

KELLY: So that is the guidance. Do we know if it is happening? Are children being brought in with the same regularity as before the pandemic?

GOZA: Pediatricians are seeing about 20 to 30% of the volume of patients that they normally see this time of year.

KELLY: Wow.

GOZA: And this is the time of year where we see a lot of well visits. So, we are trying to reassure parents that we are doing everything we can to make our offices safe so that they feel comfortable to bring these babies in, and these young children in, to get their vaccines.

KELLY: I'm curious - what kind of conversations are you having with parents calling in who need to be really talked into this sort of scary moment?

GOZA: I talk to them about the importance of their child being seen, to be weighed, you know, to come in and talk about development, and to also get the vaccines. And then I talk about how we've done things in our office so that it's safe for them to come in.

KELLY: Hmm.

GOZA: We have no waiting rooms anymore. Everyone waits in their car. We call them when we're ready for them to come in. We put them directly in a room that's just been cleaned. We clean the room when they leave. We clean all of our equipment. We will all wear a mask. So, we're really - they're not in there with anybody, really, but the doctor and the nurse.

KELLY: Can you give me a sense of what the conversation is among pediatricians? How worried are they?

GOZA: Pediatricians are very worried about this, because we know what vaccine-preventable diseases can look like. We know how the easy that is to happen if we do not keep our vaccination rates up at a certain percentage. And it's dangerous for these poor children if they don't get their vaccines, and don't get seen by their pediatricians. There are other things we're looking for too, as well as just getting vaccines. There's developmental issues, there are growth issues, and there are just the stress that's going on at home, and how to help parents deal with the stresses at home as well.

KELLY: Well, Dr. Goza, thank you.

GOZA: Well, thank you for having me.

KELLY: Sally Goza is a pediatrician, and the president of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.