St. Jude pediatric cancer expert warns: We can’t allow COVID-19 to disrupt child immunizations
Child immunizations plummeted during pandemic; but now is the time to immunize children returning to virtual or in-person school
MEMPHIS, TENNESSEE – As families with school-aged children prepare for the start of another academic year, now is the time to ensure children get their recommended vaccinations.
With August marking National Immunization Awareness Month, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital director of the HPV Cancer Prevention Program, Heather Brandt, Ph.D., encourages parents “to make a visit to their children’s health care provider to get their recommended vaccinations as part of their back-to-school plans.”
“We do not want to allow COVID-19 to disrupt our immunity against other diseases, such as measles, mumps, rubella and whooping cough. And we do not want to allow COVID-19 to derail our progress in preventing HPV cancers through vaccination. Get your child vaccinated today,” Brandt said. “The coronavirus pandemic has had an especially dramatic effect on HPV vaccination rates, which are already lower than ideal in many regions of the United States.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, childhood immunization rates have plummeted during the pandemic. As governors issued stay-at-home orders, many parents have canceled or postponed vaccinations. The CDC has recommendations for how vaccines can be safely administered during the COVID-19 pandemic. Health care providers are demonstrating great creativity and flexibility to safely meet the needs of their patients, Brandt said. For example, some pediatricians are doing parking lot visits for parents who have concerns about bringing their children into the office. Others are designating specific days or hours for well-child visits to make sure their patients remain up to date on vaccines.
“The HPV vaccine is a safe and effective way to prevent six types of cancer in men and women. Around 80% of people will get an HPV infection in their lifetime; through HPV vaccination today, we can help protect children from cancers later in life,” Brandt said.
The CDC recommends HPV vaccination for all 11- and 12-year-olds, beginning in children as young as 9 years old. For those vaccinated before age 15, only two doses are needed. Three doses are required for those aged 15 and older. HPV vaccination is just one of the vaccines recommended for this age group. Tdap and meningococcal vaccines plus the seasonal influenza vaccine also are recommended and can be given safely at the same time.