This story appeared in ABC 4. Read more here.
COVID-19 has been constantly on our minds the past couple of years and has modified our choices and opportunities to access health services as people avoided exposure to and spreading the virus.
While many prevention and wellness services were delayed due to the pandemic, now is the time to return to our regular health maintenance and make up those services we put off, such as regular immunizations, said Dr. Tamara Sheffield, medical director of preventive medicine for Intermountain Healthcare.
Data presented at the Northern Utah Immunization Coalition Conference on April 21st demonstrated a dramatic reduction in childhood well-child visits to their medical providers in Utah during 2020. This resulted in fewer immunized children and adolescents, and those numbers of missed vaccines have not yet been made up.
“Well visits provide a time for important screening, coaching, and preventive services such as immunizations,” said Dr. Sheffield. “It’s time for adults and children of all ages to return to their regular scheduled visits with their medical providers.”
Now that masking has been reduced in the community, infections due to respiratory viruses besides COVID, such as influenza and Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV), have returned.
When vaccination levels in communities drop below a high threshold, other deadly infections such as measles and polio can re-emerge, she added.
Vaccines have been held up as one of the greatest achievements of modern medicine. Not only do they greatly reduce the suffering and death caused by illness, but they also reduce the cost of care significantly by preventing the need in the first place. In some cases, diseases have all but disappeared thanks to strenuous vaccination efforts.
“You rarely hear of smallpox, diphtheria, or rubella today thanks to vaccines,” said Dr. Sheffield. “It’s good to do a regular assessment of your health needs and those of your family. Did you put off getting a mammogram or getting your second shingles vaccine? Has your child received both doses of their HPV vaccine to protect them from future HPV related cancers? If you are behind on some of your regular care, it’s time to come in and protect your health by catching up on those services.”
It isn’t just children and adolescents who need to come in for their regular childhood vaccines.
In the past year, there are new recommendations for regular adult vaccines, too. For many years, Hepatitis B vaccines have been recommended for infants, children, and adolescents to prevent serious liver disease and liver cancer caused by the virus.
“It is now recommended that all adults ages 19 to 59 years who weren’t previously vaccinated with the Hepatitis B series get immunized,” said Dr. Sheffield.
There are also new vaccine recommendations for immunocompromised adults, the recombinant shingles vaccine and new pneumococcal vaccines are now recommended.
With the new recommendations for adult vaccines, it is also a good idea to talk to your health care provider about the vaccines you should receive, because old vaccine records may not show that you are due for vaccines such as Hepatitis B, which was previously just a child or adolescent vaccine recommendation, Dr. Sheffield noted.
“We’ve learned how to be proactive as families and communities to protect ourselves and others during COVID. Now it is time to look after ourselves and our well-being with regular care,” she added. “If we come in to get our preventive services we can have the peace of mind knowing we have done all we can to get the medical services recommended to protect ourselves and our children for a healthier future.”