IMMOKALEE — Prior to the start of the coronavirus, most parents were faithful to take their children to the pediatrician for well-child visits. For the most part, children had their vaccinations on schedule. COVID-19 has wreaked havoc with vaccination schedules, said Dr. Salvatore Anzalone, a board-certified pediatric specialist with Healthcare Network.
In March, the State of Florida went into a lockdown of sorts, and many non-essential services were forbidden to operate, services such as massage parlors and hair salons. Even dentists only performed essential services and canceled things like cleanings. Many doctors’ offices found themselves seeing fewer and fewer patients, and telehealth visits became common.
“The problem with telehealth visits,” said Dr. Anzalone, “is that you cannot give an immunization over the telephone.”
“From the very beginning, the American Academy of Pediatrics has supported the continuation of well visits for children, because holding off on vaccinations can potentially result in secondary outbreaks,” he said. It was never the intention of the governor to limit access to health care, but studies show a 71% drop in health care visits for children between the ages of 7 and 17, the ages when they would normally be receiving vaccines such as Tdap, HPV and meningitis. The Florida Department of Health shows a 15% reduction in the number of vaccinations administered in March 2020 when compared to the number issued in 2019 and a 40% reduction for the month of April when compared to the previous year.
Dr. Anzalone feels very strongly about the need for children to have the HPV vaccination.
HPV, short for human papillomavirus, is a virus that can cause certain cancers and diseases in both males and females and is the most common sexually transmitted infection. HPV infects over four out of every five individuals, and most will never know they are infected. While most HPV infections will go away on their own, infections that don’t go away can cause cancer. The HPV vaccination can prevent most cancer and diseases caused by HPV.
With this new habit of avoiding the doctor’s office, “Now, we have to figure out how to get these families back into the office,” said Dr. Anzalone. Their offices have made some changes. They separate their well visits from their sick visits, by doing well visits in the morning and sick visits in the afternoon. They see babies in the very early hours of the day. It has helped to get their numbers up. This allows for a decreased level of contamination, he explained.
Something to keep in mind, he said, is that it only takes a few unvaccinated people to reintroduce a disease to a society.
“It’s very important for children to see the doctor for their scheduled well-visits,” he said. “Pediatricians are open for business.”