A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic Health System

Playing catchup: How to handle your child’s missed vaccinations

mother and daughter visit with health care provider

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused some families to miss some important vaccinations.

Life changes, packed calendars, and as the last two years have taught us, pandemics are a few of the things that can throw childhood vaccinations off kilter. While this can be concerning at times for health care providers, there are things parents and caregivers can do to try to get back on track.

Why vaccinate?

Vaccines are extremely important for children, since young kids are more susceptible to severe diseases. Their bodies aren’t as able to handle serious infections. Illnesses like measles, polio and hepatitis A and B can cause lifelong disability or even death.

Another benefit of vaccination is its impact on health care, should your little one get sick. Parents may not realize that when a child is being seen for an illness, physicians and providers will need to broaden their considerations if vaccines are not up-to-date.

“For example, if your child is being seen for vomiting and abdominal pain, we cannot confidently say this is a simple gastrointestinal bug,” said Marshfield Clinic Health System Pediatrician Dr. Aleesa Fedt. “We may need to obtain additional labs to rule out diseases such as hepatitis. What could otherwise be a quick office visit can turn into days of testing and/or treatment.”

The impact of COVID-19

When COVID-19 emerged in early 2020, many families kept kids home instead of taking them to routine appointments. At the time, the hope was that lockdowns would be short-lived. But even as we have returned to certain levels of “normalcy,” some kids are still missing out on necessary vaccinations.

“Since the pandemic started, we have seen a significant increase in the number of patients who are behind on immunizations,” Fedt said. “This is very worrisome because not only are children becoming sick with COVID-19, we have seen kids co-infected with other vaccine-preventable illnesses, which can lead to a worse prognosis.”

Getting back on track

If your child has missed some shots, you are not alone. But it is time to call your provider’s office to determine which vaccines are needed. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a catchup schedule that providers use to help them navigate different situations.

“This means that your child can start getting up-to-date on vaccines in a safe way as soon as you’re able to take them to the clinic,” Dr. Fedt said. “If a child has been seen within the year for well visits, it is possible to do vaccine-only appointments, as well.”

While doctors strongly encourage to get back on track, there could be some consequences. Some vaccines are not able to be given once your child reaches a certain age. And a non-uniform schedule could mean less protection, because recommended schedules are based on the diseases that your child is most exposed or susceptible to at each age.

Nevertheless, the overall consensus is to talk to your child’s doctor and formulate a vaccination plan. You’ll be doing your family a favor and those around them as well, because a lack of vaccination can disrupt herd immunity for these preventable diseases. We’ve seen that with measles outbreaks in certain areas of the country.

“Measles is extremely contagious,” Dr. Fedt said. “If one person is infected, 90% of the non-immune or immunocompromised people who have been in contact with that person will become infected. This is the perfect illustration of why all families should put an emphasis on staying up-to-date (or catching up) on immunizations.”

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