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Conaway: NJ Parents, Please Get Kids Vaccinated on Schedule

With medical experts around the world working day and night to develop a COVID-19 vaccine, the importance of immunization has never been more evident. Yet throughout New Jersey we have seen a drastic decrease in the number of parents bringing their children into doctor’s offices for childhood vaccinations.

Over the past few months, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF have warned of declining immunizations and the dangers children may face as a result. August is National Immunization Awareness Month. I urge parents to reach out to your pediatrician to schedule any vaccines your child is due to receive. Keeping up with scheduled vaccinations during this time is imperative to your child’s health and public health.

Though we do not yet have a vaccine for the novel coronavirus, we do have vaccines for a number of other dangerous illnesses such as measles, meningitis and polio. These diseases cannot be ignored especially in the midst of turbulent times, as each can cause serious health consequences if preventative measures are not taken.

Even children with ‘milder’ cases of these diseases still tend to experience unpleasant symptoms such as a high fever, sore throat, rash or vomiting that can last anywhere from days to weeks.

What parent wouldn’t want to prevent the needless suffering of their child, let alone the suffering of other vulnerable children who could catch a contagious illness?

In fact, the highly contagious nature of these diseases is exactly why we need to stay on top of immunizations during this pandemic. The last thing we need is another viral outbreak while hospitals are already dealing with an influx of patients and a shortage of both staff and personal protective equipment.

This also applies to the flu vaccine, which residents of all ages can and should get in anticipation of this year’s flu season. We need to limit the number of people hospitalized for the flu in order to limit the strain on our healthcare system, while also preventing the serious complications that could take place if someone were to contract both the flu and COVID-19 at the same time.

Children are one of the main drivers of flu outbreaks, which is exactly why our state requires families to vaccinate their children against the flu if they will be entering a child care center. If we fall behind on childhood immunizations and seasonal flu vaccines in the midst of a pandemic, our state could face the dangerous prospect of a triple public health threat this Fall. It’s no mystery why the number of childhood immunizations has declined in recent months. At the onset of this pandemic, we were all encouraged to stay at home, avoid unnecessary contact with others and to take advantage of telehealth services whenever possible to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. The Assembly has also passed a number of bills to make telehealth easier and more widely available to patients.

Fortunately, doctor’s offices are now open and taking the necessary steps to protect themselves and their patients while tending to medical needs. Parents can comfortably take their children into the office for regular checkups, and stay current with vaccinations, something that cannot be given to patients remotely.

While the pandemic is far from over, cases are lower now than they were a few months ago and various standards have been put in place to help keep people safe. Some doctors are even offering curbside medical services that could prevent patients from ever having to go into the office itself.

It is far safer to take a child to a doctor’s office right now with masks, plexiglass barriers, enforced social distancing protocols than it is to delay vaccinations that could save their life.

I cannot stress enough just how critical it is to make sure kids are up-to-date on their vaccinations as more of our community reopens. Especially with school right around the corner and more parents letting their children interact with other kids again, now is the time to act.

So please, reach out to your family doctor to ask what vaccines your child may need and how you can safely schedule an appointment to get them.

This op-ed was first published in the Bergen Record on August 28, 2020: