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Pediatricians Say Children Need Checkups And Vaccines, Even During COVID-19

Pediatrician Ken Haller tries to get 3-year-old Azaya Clemons to laugh during a checkup at Danis Pediatrics in Midtown.
File photo | Sarah Fentem | St. Louis Public Radio
Pediatrician Ken Haller tries to get 3-year-old Azaya Clemons to laugh during a 2018 checkup at Danis Pediatrics in Midtown.

Pediatricians are urging families to take their children to the doctor’s office for routine vaccinations, even during the coronavirus pandemic. 

Parents have been postponing or canceling appointments for vaccines that prevent diseases such as measles or whooping cough, doctors said.

They warn that could create another wave of preventable diseases as schools and day cares reopen later this year.

“Some people are just super scared,” said Dr. Cassidy Leonard-Scott, a pediatrician at Hannibal Regional Medical Group. “We still really worry that we’re going to have an outbreak of one of these vaccine-preventable illnesses because people aren’t getting their vaccinations as they should.”

If too many parents put off shots for their children, it could reduce the effectiveness of vaccines. Doctors say vaccines work best when a certain amount of the population is protected. Such herd immunity keeps a disease from spreading widely. 

“The last thing we want is for some of those critical levels of herd immunity that we need to drop below and have us a measles epidemic on top of the [COVID-19] pandemic,” said Dr. Maya Moody, a pediatrician in Creve Coeur.

Many clinics and hospitals have urged patients to put off procedures that aren’t urgent to limit the spread of the coronavirus. But checkups and visits to receive vaccinations are essential medical procedures, especially for infants and younger children.

“It’s really important kids get these vaccines on time,” said Dr. Ken Haller, a SLUCare pedicatrician at SSM Health Cardinal-Glennon Children's Hospital. 

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends 10 routine “well-child” visits before a child’s second birthday. Vaccines and booster shots are built into that schedule.

“They protect against diseases which are much more severe the younger a person is,” said Haller, who also practices at Danis Pediatrics. “If we wait too long on these vaccines, and a kid gets measles or whooping cough … it’s liable to be much more crippling and much more deadly.”

Well-child visits also can help doctors identify potentially serious chronic health problems or learning disabilities. 

Doctors assure families that the risk of contracting COVID-19 at a pediatrician’s office is low. Clinics are disinfected with a heavy-duty cleaning every night, Moody said. Many clinics are scheduling routine check ups first thing in the morning when the offices are the most clean and seeing sick patients later in the day.

“We’re probably one of the safer places we go because of the amount of preparations we have taken, she said.

Clinics also are staggering appointments further apart to eliminate waiting times and screening people for symptoms of COVID-19 before they come inside.

Correction: A previous version of this story misstated Dr. Cassidy Leonard-Scott's name. 

Follow Sarah on Twitter: @petit_smudge

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Sarah is the health reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.