The school year is officially underway. For many kids the classroom has been replaced with the living room or kitchen, pens and pencils have been replaced with a stylus, and recess now takes place in the backyard. While many changes have taken place, one thing should remain constant — vaccinations.

At a time when many parents are worried about their children being exposed to COVID-19, some are postponing or even canceling appointments to have kids vaccinated against childhood diseases. As a pediatrician, I understand parents’ concerns and those decisions are made on an individual basis. But I’d like to shed some light on the importance of keeping up with regular vaccinations to help allay fears of parents who may be hesitant.

Community Immunity

As vaccination rates decline, there’s a serious concern about an increase in vaccine-preventable diseases that can be dangerous for children and the community.

When enough people are vaccinated against a certain disease, the germs can’t travel as easily from person to person, and the entire community is less likely to get the disease. Community immunity will be especially important during the upcoming flu season, to avoid stressing a health care system that’s already struggling with the impact of COVID-19.

It’s impossible say for sure, even with social distancing, that a child isn’t going to see another person outside of their immediate family. Even if you are keeping your child at home, there are countless exposures that can occur through parents and siblings. Keeping up with regular vaccinations is critical for limiting potential spread of preventable diseases.

Timing is Everything

I encourage parents to have their children immunized according to the vaccine schedule set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The suggested timing for each vaccine is based on how children’s immune systems respond to vaccines at various ages and when they’re most likely to be exposed to certain diseases.

The standard vaccine schedule protects kids from 14 serious diseases by the time they are 2, including measles, mumps, the flu, and whooping cough.

Vaccines help your immune system learn how to protect itself from certain germs. But you need to allow enough time for that to happen. If you wait until your child starts day care, or until there’s an outbreak of measles, there may not be enough time for the immunity to develop.

Safety is a Standard of Care

For parents who are concerned about exposing their children to an illness while at their doctor’s office, medical professionals are taking many steps to ensure it’s safe to bring your child in.

For instance, at Kaiser Permanente, you and your child will be screened over the phone for COVID-19 symptoms before you arrive for your appointment. If you and your child aren’t showing any symptoms, you’ll most likely be scheduled for an in-person visit.

But it’s not just pediatric appointments. Anyone entering a Kaiser Permanente facility is screened for symptoms, and face masks are required for all adults and children ages 2 and up. Our lobbies and waiting rooms have been rearranged to support physical distancing, and enhanced cleaning and sanitizing procedures are in place.

As an added step of convenience for Kaiser Permanente members during flu season, we’re now offering drive-thru flu vaccinations at most of our medical offices. This helps get people in quicker and promotes additional social distancing. For more information, visit kp.org/flu.

There are many reasons parents may consider delaying vaccinations and the increase in delayed vaccinations haven’t occurred just because of the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s important for parents to speak with their care provider about those concerns and get as much information as possible before making any decision. But now, more than ever, it’s critical for those regularly scheduled vaccinations to take place — not just for the health of your child but your entire family and your community.

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Thomas J. Steimer, M.D., chief of pediatrics at Kaiser Permanente Georgia.

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