August is National Immunization Awareness Month. It's an annual effort to highlight the importance of vaccines. Unfortunately, data show that since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, parents are hesitating to bring their children in for immunizations. I urge parents to reconsider and schedule important vaccinations for their children.

The importance of immunizations can't be overstated. They are vitally important to children, protecting them - and our community - against diseases such as measles, mumps, whooping cough, rubella, chicken pox, polio, diphtheria and hepatitis A and B, among other illnesses. We urge parents to bring in their children for these important immunizations, which we administer when children are 2 months, 4 months, 6 months, 12 months, 15 months and 18 months of age.

Children need booster doses of some vaccines between ages 3 and 6.

Adolescents need the tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis vaccine (Tdap) and a vaccine series against Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), which causes cervical cancer and penile cancer. Children should be also vaccinated against meningitis at age 11 and age 16.

Flu vaccines are recommended every year in the fall.

Because these illnesses are so contagious, schools require children to have their immunizations by certain ages. Make sure your child is up to date on immunizations so she can attend in-person classes when buildings reopen. Don't wait until the last minute because appointments may be hard to come by. Schedule now.

Vaccines Are Important

Simply put, vaccines save lives.

Take measles, for example. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 1 child of every 1,000 who gets measles will develop encephalitis, which is swelling of the brain. That can lead to seizures, deafness or intellectual disabilities. One to three of every 1,000 children who are infected will die from complications of measles.

Whooping cough, or pertussis, can lead to pneumonia, seizures and even death.

Mumps can lead to inflammation of the testicles, ovaries, pancreas or brain. It can also cause deafness.

Bacterial meningitis can lead to brain damage, deafness and death.

And in 2020, these illnesses and their complications are preventable.

In addition to protecting your own children from these diseases and the likely hospitalizations that come with them, when your child is vaccinated you are helping protect those who can't be immunized and the community overall.

When parents have their children vaccinated, they are helping protect babies too young for shots. For example, the measles vaccine isn't administered until age 12 months. The flu shot isn't given until the baby is at least 6 months, and infants are especially vulnerable to the flu.

There are also people with certain immunodeficiencies who can't be vaccinated, including children with cancer on chemotherapy, who are very vulnerable to infections.

COVID-19 Concerns

Of course, many parents are concerned about bringing their children in to the pediatrician during the COVID-19 pandemic. They are concerned their otherwise healthy child may catch the virus while at the doctor's office.

I encourage parents to ask their pediatrician about the safety measures they are taking to prevent the spread of disease.

At the Mid-Atlantic Permanente Medical Group, we are prescreening everyone who wants to enter our medical centers. We require masks for all patients, visitors and staff over the age of 2. We have hand-sanitizing stations located throughout each medical center, and our doctors, nurses and other medical staff sanitize or wash their hands before and after interacting with patients. We are wiping and disinfecting all surfaces. We've also installed signage and wayfinding arrows to help everyone adhere to physical distancing.

Most pediatric offices likely have procedures in place to keep well children and sick children separated.

Don't Wait. Vaccinate.

In May, the CDC published an article called "Effects of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Routine Vaccine Ordering and Administration - United States, 2020." The data analyzed in the report show a significant and concerning nationwide decrease in vaccine orders and vaccinations in April 2020 compared with the previous April.

According to the State of Maryland, there has been a 71 percent decrease in administration of the MMR vaccine, which protects against measles, mumps and rubella. This raises the risk of a measles outbreak in our community.

Our goal as pediatricians is to keep your children safe. An outbreak of measles, whooping cough, meningitis or other illnesses could severely hurt your children and can, in some cases, be fatal. Please make sure your child's immunizations are up to date.

Don't wait. Vaccinate.


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Christina Brown, MD is a board-certified pediatrician with the Mid-Atlantic Permanente Medical Group. She sees patients at Kaiser Permanente's White Marsh Medical Center.