Pediatricians urge kids to catch up on vaccines before school starts

This article appeared in MLive. Read more here.

Vaccinating children against COVID-19 remains a priority for Michigan’s health officials and physicians, but it’s not the only reason to schedule an appointment in the near future.

With the 2022-23 school year around the corner, parents are reminded to get their children in for an annual physical and to ensure they’re caught up on their recommended vaccine timelines.

Dr. Natasha Bagdasarian, Michigan’s chief medical executive, said the pandemic has caused folks across the board to delay or fall out of their preventative health care routines. Now is the time to get back on track.

“We are continuing to encourage Michigan parents to get their kids vaccinated against everything that they might be due for,” she said. “Vaccines are an incredible tool. We’ve been using them for decades and decades, safely, to prevent illness and death in children.”

Before kindergarten, kids are recommended to get protection against diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, polio, measles, mumps, rubella, hepatitis B and chickenpox. Then around age 11, doctors say they should get the Tdap booster, and a vaccination against meningococcal meningitis and human papillomavirus (HPV).

In 2020, about 92.9% of K-12 students were fully vaccinated, while 3.8% were partially vaccinated at the time of their records being checked, and 3.3% received waivers, according to data from the state health department. More recent data is not yet available.

Even when they’re not due for a shot, it’s “extremely important” that children still have annual physicals, said Dr. Julie MacPherson, pediatrician for Beaumont Health.

Physicians track a child’s motor development, speech and language, and pubertal development to make sure they’re following appropriate timelines. They answer questions from parents and children as they arise, and offer a safe space to discuss those concerns.

“We also hit on mental health and we all know that’s been a big problem in our youth during the pandemic,” MacPherson said. “Giving these kids an opportunity to come in and talk to a trusted person that they know, about how they’re feeling and how they’re getting along is very important.”

Scheduling appointments during the school year can present challenges as calendars fill up. Getting in during the summer is beneficial, especially for students who need signed waivers to participate in sports when the school year picks back up.

Even if it’s last-minute, MacPherson recommends calling your family doctor to see if they can squeeze your kid in for a physical rather than relying on urgent care or a “minute clinic” that doesn’t offer the same knowledge of your health history.

While she has them in the room, MacPherson takes the opportunity during an appointment to talk to parents about the COVID vaccine if records indicate their children haven’t gotten the shots yet. She said it’s important not to pressure them, but to offer the opportunity for them to express their concerns.

“If I can get to the root of what their biggest fear is, then I can try to address that so that they’ll feel more comfortable,” she said. “For me, it’s an opportunity to educate.”

At least 14,747 Michigan children younger than 5 had gotten their first dose of COVID vaccine as of Wednesday, June 20. The youngest age group has been eligible for the shot for five weeks following clinical trials and emergency use authorization.

The state health department knew there would be hesitancy by some to get their children vaccinated against COVID. About 71% of residents 20 and older have gotten the shot, while only about 33% of residents 19 and younger have been vaccinated.

“We anticipated there being some vaccine hesitancy,” Bagdasarian said. “I wish that were not the case. I wish there were more kids who had had the COVID-19 vaccine, which we know is incredibly safe and effective. But we’re going to continue doing outreach and we’re going to continue talking to parents and having those conversations about why vaccination is important.”

Pfizer’s shot for the 6 month to 4 year age bracket recommends three doses spread over three months. The Moderna shot calls for two doses four weeks apart, though there’s been discussion about eventually needing a third dose.

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You’ve got questions. That’s a good thing.

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