Don’t wait to vaccinate kids during the coronavirus outbreak, doctors say

Canadian residents have been asked to stay home when possible in an effort to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.

That means only going out in public when you need something essential, like groceries. But for parents of young children, does a trip to the doctor’s office for vaccinations count as essential — or does it pose unnecessary risk?

The Canadian Paediatrics Society (CPS) “strongly recommends” that a child’s routine immunization schedule be maintained throughout the pandemic.

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“Any delay or omission in scheduled vaccines puts children at risk for common and serious childhood infections such as pneumococcal disease, measles and pertussis,” a spokesperson for the CPS said in an email to Global News.

Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, agrees. On Sunday, she tweeted that “vaccination is an essential activity.”

“It’s normal to feel concerned about visiting a doctor’s office or clinic at this time, but please know that health-care providers have precautions in place to prevent the spread of infection, like screening and physical distancing,” Tam said.

Dr. John LeBlanc, a paediatrician at the IWK Health Centre in Halifax, said all vaccines should still be provided on time during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“There’s simply no point in waiting. You’re not doing anybody any favours — especially your own children,”  LeBlanc said.

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The only time your child should miss a vaccine is if they present with a fever or cough, and you’re worried they may have been exposed to COVID-19, LeBlanc said.

“By no means should you go to your physician’s office [if this is the case],” he said. “You certainly wait until that illness is over.”

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This is not because receiving a vaccine would harm your child, but your child “would be putting others at risk,” he explained.

Dr. Dina Kulik, founder and director of Kidcrew Medical in Toronto, is “quite concerned” that newborns are being discharged from the hospital and then missing key followup appointments due to concerns around COVID-19.

“Especially for firstborns — but for all babies — we need to make sure that they’re growing well … that they’re not excessively jaundiced… and that they’re hydrated,” Kulik said.

In this circumstance, Kulik says babies should see a doctor in person.

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Children should also be seen in person by a doctor at ages one month, two months, four months, six months, 12 months and 15 months. These checkups will ensure growth and development are normal, and that the child is properly vaccinated in line with government recommendations, Kulik said.

“At the nine-month visit, there are no vaccines, so we’re recommending that [this visit] is provided virtually,” Kulik said.

“There’s also a visit between four and six years of age, and we’re recommending that is virtual as well unless the child is already sick and has not yet had their four- to six-year vaccine.”

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Most doctors’ offices should have precautionary measures in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19, but you can always call to confirm this is the case if you’re nervous.

Many offices have closed waiting rooms, allowing only one family in at a time. If that’s not possible, the waiting room should have a minimum of two metres between each seat.

“One parent or caregiver per child should go with the child,” Kulik said, and both the caregiver and the child should be “perfectly well.”

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That means “no recent exposure to COVID-19 and no concerns around infection,” Kulik said.

Doctors like Kulik and LeBlanc are very concerned about the possible resurgence of vaccine-preventable illnesses like measles, meningitis and whooping cough.

If your child misses key vaccinations due to the pandemic, they won’t be allowed to return to school, daycare or other facilities when lockdown measures are lifted.

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“Infectious disease specialists across the country are unified in this position,” LeBlanc said.

“There really is a concern that if immunization schedules are delayed, you would be putting children at risk, forgetting the illnesses that the vaccines prevent.”

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Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Health officials caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are legally obligated to self-isolate for 14 days, beginning March 26, in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others. Some provinces and territories have also implemented additional recommendations or enforcement measures to ensure those returning to the area self-isolate.

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out.

For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.

Meghan.Collie@globalnews.ca

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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