Local medical professionals are urging parents to continue vaccinating their children after immunization rates have plummeted as parents stay home, worried about the coronavirus.
In March, Kern County doctors provided only 21,321 immunizations compared with 31,786 in March 2019, according to statistics from the California Immunization Registry provided to The Californian by Dr. Hasmukh Amin of Riverwalk Pediatrics. That figure represents a nearly 33 percent drop.
The same statistics paint a worse picture in April, when 14,402 immunizations occurred this year compared with 29,498 in the same month of 2019, a 51 percent decline.
“I have been telling all my patients and my people if we don’t vaccinate the children, the communicable diseases will come back,” Amin said, while noting the trend has begun to reverse itself over recent weeks. “Some of these diseases can have a permanent bad outcome. It can affect the growth and development. There might be lots and lots of complications.”
From the time they are born to their teenage years, children receive a range of vaccines designed to prevent communicable diseases that once ravaged society, but have since nearly disappeared from American shores. The diseases — such as polio, measles and hepatitis B — can cause serious medical problems that persist for a lifetime, but medical experts say vaccines have been successful in largely eliminating the threat.
Now that people are staying away from doctors’ offices out of the fear of contracting COVID-19, the possibility of a resurgence of these communicable diseases emerges.
“We’re having this national conversation around developing a vaccine (for the coronavirus) and a vaccine being a very strong way of getting out of this pandemic,” said Kiyoshi Tomono, vice president of partnership at Adventist Health. “It’s kind of ironic to me that we’re seeing the number of people that are not being vaccinated go up.”
Adventist runs a children’s mobile immunization program that operates throughout Kern County. Participation has been down since the start of the pandemic, but Tomono said he hopes it will pick back up soon.
“What we tend to see is Bakersfield is a last-minute community anyway,” he said. “People will do that too with immunizations, and get ready and wait until just before the school year.”
For parents worried about their children contracting COVID-19 by visiting a doctor’s office, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued guidelines for doctors to follow.
“We ask parents to contact their child’s doctor if they have any concerns about visiting the office during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Kern County Public Health Services spokeswoman Michelle Corson wrote in an email. “Most providers have additional safety measures in place to protect patients when visiting the clinic.”
Amin said his office is following strict protocols designed to prevent children from becoming sick and he encouraged parents to continue to vaccinate their children.
“All the pediatricians follow the CDC guidelines,” he said. “They follow the masks, they follow the social distancing, they are disinfecting the rooms after each patient. Parents don’t have to worry.”