Pediatricians work to get kids caught up on normal vaccinations while awaiting COVID-19 vaccine
(WXYZ) — Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine is now approved for use in children ages 12-15, and Moderna and Pfizer are currently testing their vaccine in children as young as six months old.
Those shots for children between the ages of 12 and 15 will be given out at pharmacies, community centers, hospitals and more.
Your family's pediatrician will also be key in the effort to get those shots in the arms of kids. On Wednesday, MDHHS Chief Health Executive Dr. Joneigh Khaldun urged all primary care physicians to sign up to get the vaccine.
Even before the arrival of the COVID-19 vaccine, the pandemic accelerated the problem of children missing out on routine childhood vaccinations.
Now, pediatricians are trying to help families catch up on normal vaccines and also trying to work the COVID-19 vaccine in the mix.
Anne Hahn, who has a 5-year-old daughter named Emma, said a part of getting ready for school is making sure Emma is up to date on her routine childhood vaccinations.
"Right after she turned four, she got her last series. So she is good until she's 11," Hahn said.
But an alarming number of Michigan children are not. By May 2020 and fueled in part by the pandemic, the number of Michigan 2-year-olds up to date on their shots declined to less than 50 percent according to the CDC. Visits to pediatricians are down nationwide during the pandemic.
"CDC orders for childhood vaccinations dropped by about 11 million doses - a substantial and historic decline," CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said.
That's a cause for concern according to Dr. Scott Grant - a pediatrician at DMC Children's Hospital. Grant says he's seeing that drop-off here in metro Detroit. A year into the pandemic and we're still playing catch up.
"Some of these vaccines occur in series. And so, when you miss the first dose or the second dose, then when we finally get back in, we get you that dose. But then there may be additional doses that we have to then bring you back in for," he said.
That increases the risk families won't return to complete the series and reduces vaccine coverage and herd immunity, opening the door to other viruses while we're fighting COVID-19.
"Even before the pandemic, we saw outbreaks of things like measles and a lot of different states across the country. That's certainly something we want to prevent," Grant added.
There are protocols for getting back on track, but that will be complicated by the COVID-19 vaccine. The CDC recommends against giving the COVID-19 shot within 14 days of any other vaccine. Since the Pfizer shot requires two doses, three weeks apart -- for children 12-15 that's a 7-week window where the COVID-19 vaccine is competing with other shots.
That's the time when kids might be given the TDAP shot to inoculate against Tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis. They'll also be given the meningococcal vaccine to fight bacterial meningitis, and theHPV vaccine to fight a virus linked to cervical cancer.
At best it's additional trips to the doctor's office. At worse those vaccinations may just be missed. This all gets more complicated when younger children are approved for the COVID-19 vaccine since they receive more of these routine shots.
For now, pediatricians are urging families to come back in to catch up on vaccinations. Emma's mom Anne says it safe to go in.
Grant also says it's important, not just for shots but checkups for the body and mind.
"There's certainly a lot of depression, anxiety, those kinds of things. Pediatricians can help with that," he said.
So when will children like 5-year-old Emma be eligible to receive the vaccine? It will be a while.
The next age group will likely be 9-12 and that could happen later this year.
Children younger than 6 may not be eligible for the vaccine until early 2022, according to CDC Director Walensky.
We'll move to younger and young groups as safety studies are complete. Either way, pediatricians will be playing catch up with those routine vaccines while trying to work in COVID-19 shots to a growing number of children.