A RECENT study by Blue Cross/Blue Shield indicates that children across the United States have missed at least 25% of their recommended childhood immunizations in the past year.

Because of the wording used in that survey, many health officials say they believe even more immunization milestones have been missed and consequently there will be higher rates of childhood diseases in the coming years. In addition, many of these children have missed other medical visits that are designed to find vision problems, hernias, scoliosis, cancer or childhood diabetes – creating concerns that treatable conditions will go undiagnosed.

Most of the survey respondents said they missed immunizations and doctor appointments for their children out of concern that they might be at higher risk of contracting COVID-19 in a health care setting. Fear of the coronavirus, they say, led them to miss out on vaccines that would have protected against other health risks.

We must not let this become a self-perpetuating cycle.

Missouri health officials have been trying to spread the word about safety protocols at immunization sites. Patients are screened before they enter most hospitals, clinics or vaccination areas. People with high temperatures are usually not allowed to enter and are directed to seek care from their primary care providers.

Face masks are required for those entering vaccination sites. In many places, parents are not allowed to bring children who do not have appointments.

At some point those children who have missed immunizations will need to catch up. This is necessary not only for the children, it’s important for their families and the communities where they live.

Measles and mumps are among those childhood diseases for which immunity is necessary. Without that immunity, measles can erupt, affecting the child and others they come in contact with. For a pregnant woman, the measles virus can affect an unborn child. Family members with auto-immune diseases or health compromised by cancer treatments, may face life-threatening illness.

All of this debate about vaccinations predates the COVID-19 pandemic. Now that people at higher risk from the coronavirus are getting vaccinations, parents should get educated on the science and the health risks.

A COVID-19 vaccine hasn’t even been rolled out yet for children, but must be considered. Some states are debating whether children can enroll in school before catching up on their routine immunizations. A few legislators have asked whether the COVID-19 vaccinations also should be required. So far no laws would require that.

The global coronavirus outbreak makes evident the need for government to be proactive and nonpolitical in protecting public health. But ultimately many of these decisions will be made within the family unit.

Americans want to make their own decisions based on individual circumstances. We hope the vast majority will make their choices based on science, advice from health care workers and concern for what is best for the child and the family.

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