For months, we have had a laser focus on one vaccine: the COVID-19 shot of hope. But other vaccines need our attention too.
Some families skipped back-to-school vaccinations for children during the pandemic, when kids were learning remotely, and now will need to get them caught up as they return to a more regular classroom schedule.
Also, some adults postponed or delayed care, meaning fewer got protected against illnesses such as pneumonia or shingles, safeguards they need as we all start gathering with others more regularly.
Kids and vaccines
“We are encouraging families to schedule routine well-child checkups for their children so that we can make sure they are up to date with all of their preventive care, including routine childhood vaccines,” said Dr. Ashley Martin, a WellSpan family physician. “Vaccines help us to avoid an outbreak of preventable childhood illnesses such as measles and mumps. They help to keep our children healthy and safe and have greatly reduced some very contagious diseases.”
Statistics show that the numbers of children who have received routine immunizations have not returned to the levels they were at before the pandemic, according to a study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. These are immunizations for illnesses such as the measles, mumps, rubella, polio, tetanus, diphtheria, whooping cough, hepatitis B, chickenpox and meningococcal disease.
According to the study, the percentage of children and adolescents receiving their MMR shots (for measles, mumps, and rubella) and their Tdap shots (tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis, or whooping cough) between March and May 2020 dropped substantially compared to the same time period in 2018 and 2019. For example, MMR doses among 2- to 8-year-olds dropped by 63 percent. Tdap vaccinations declined 66 percent among 9- to 12-year-olds and 21 percent among 13- to 17-year-olds.
For children between 9 and 18 years old, Martin also recommends the HPV vaccination, which protects against the most dangerous types of the human papillomaviruses that cause cervical, anal and tonsil cancers, as well as genital warts.
In addition to their childhood immunizations, Martin also recommends that children age 6 months and older receive a flu shot in the fall.
Parents also can consider getting the COVID-19 vaccine for children who are age 12 and older, a move that is recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the CDC. Start the process now, to ensure kids can get both shots by the time the school year is under way, as there is a three-week wait between doses in the Pfizer vaccine, which is currently approved for kids.
Kids can get their regular vaccines at the same time they get the COVID-19 vaccine.
“Getting the COVID-19 vaccine is important to protect your children and family from severe disease and long-term complications from COVID-19. It will also reduce transmission of the virus, which led to interruptions in in-person learning last year.” Martin said. “Getting your eligible children vaccinated for COVID-19 is a big step toward a normal school year.”
Adults and vaccines
“Adults may be surprised to learn that they also need vaccinations to stay healthy,” said Dr. John Keenan, WellSpan family physician. “Vaccinations aren’t just for babies and kids.”
Keenan noticed a drop-off in adult vaccinations during the pandemic, but he said it’s never too late to boost your protection against diseases such as the flu or, as you age, shingles and pneumonia.
Adults who have not yet gotten the COVID-19 vaccine should add that to their list of healthy steps, he said. The vaccine is safe and effective and increasingly important, as new variants of the virus emerge and continue to circulate among unvaccinated people.
In addition to the COVID-19 vaccine, here are his recommendations:
- All adults should receive a seasonal flu vaccine every year, a move that is particularly recommended for people with chronic health conditions, pregnant women, and older adults.
- Adults also should get the Tdap vaccine once, if they did not receive it as a teen, to protect them against whooping cough, and a tetanus/diphtheria booster shot every 10 years.
- Young adults, age 19 to 26 years old, also should receive an HPV vaccine if they did not receive it as a teenager.
- Healthy adults age 50 and older should get a vaccine against shingles, which impacts 1 out of 3 unprotected adults, with the risk increasing as you age.
- Adults age 65 or older (or those 65 and younger with certain health conditions) should get the pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (PPSV23), which protects against serious pneumococcal disease, including meningitis and bloodstream infections.
“If you don’t know what vaccines to get, talk to your provider about it,” Keenan said. “We are here to help guide you and keep you healthy.”
Make sure your children’s or your vaccines are up to date by scheduling a visit with a WellSpan provider by going here.