Cedars-Sinai Blog

Staying on Top of Your Child's Vaccines During COVID-19

An illustration of a child and a doctor in masks giving an immunization shot.

Immunizations have a long history of preventing the spread of dangerous diseases—including measles, whooping cough and polio—and stopping their comeback.

But during the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic, childhood vaccines plummeted, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). From mid-March to mid-April, doctors ordered about 2.5 million fewer doses of routine flu shots and 250,000 fewer doses of measles-containing vaccines than the same time period in 2019.

"Drops in immunizations have been linked to measles and whooping cough outbreaks and could lead to others in the future."

Declines like these raise the risk of unvaccinated and undervaccinated kids contracting and spreading preventable diseases. Parents shouldn't let vaccinations take a backseat, says Dr. Sharon Wirawan, a pediatrician at Cedars-Sinai.

"Just because COVID-19 is out there doesn't mean measles isn't out there, whooping cough (pertussis) isn't out there or the risk of contracting those is lower," she says. "And we can actually protect infants and children from these diseases."

Public health outbreaks aren't the time to let up on your child's vaccines

We already know the toll these infectious diseases can take, Dr. Wirawan says. Measles, for example, is highly contagious and can cause serious complications such as pneumonia, blindness and brain inflammation (encephalitis). Mumps can cause deafness and even meningitis.

Vaccines are very effective in combating these diseases. Two doses of the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine are about 97% effective in preventing measles, according to the CDC.

"Vaccines are one of the biggest parts of pediatrics," Dr. Wirawan says. "They truly do save lives."

Drops in immunizations have been linked to measles and whooping cough outbreaks and could lead to others in the future. 

Vaccines work by building herd immunity. A vaccine exposes a person's immune system to a bacteria and viruses, teaching it to fight them off if contracted later on. The more people who are vaccinated, the more the bacteria dies off.

Protect your kids—and others—by keeping up with their shots, Dr. Wirawan advises. 

You can vaccinate and still stay safe

Fear often keeps parents away from pediatricians' offices during health outbreaks like COVID-19. Dr. Wirawan says parents should stay vigilant but don't need to be afraid.

"The last thing we want as pediatricians is to put our patients and their parents in an unsafe environment," she says.

Doctors' offices are well-controlled and have safeguards in place to keep patients protected, Dr. Wirawan says. The CDC has also issued guidelines for health providers during COVID-19. 

These strategies include frequent sanitizing, wearing masks, physical distancing, limiting the number of people allowed to attend a visit and temperature checks for everyone at entrances. 

Pediatricians are also separating sick child visits from well-child preventive visits through different providers, different locations and telehealth. And well-child visits, which include vaccine doses, can give you the chance to ask your pediatrician any questions or concerns, Dr. Wirawan says.

Maintaining your vaccine schedule

Vaccines are available for 16 diseases for children, including hepatitis, polio, pneumococcal (PCV), rotavirus (RV), diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough (DTaP), and MMR and varicella. Dr. Wirawan also recommends getting your kids—and yourself—annual flu shots, especially during an outbreak like COVID-19. 

That will help to keep your child out of a hospital or clinic, and if they do get sick, to narrow down the possibilities.

Pay attention to changes when an infectious disease has emerged or returned. Stay-at-home restrictions, medical office closures and changes prioritizing essential care can disrupt parents' routine health schedules.

Make sure you are following the CDC immunization schedule, and don't space out vaccines, Dr. Wirawan says. That way you can limit the number of visits in which your kids are poked and prodded, while reducing exposure to other infectious diseases. 

"The way that vaccines are scheduled is the way that they've been studied," Dr. Wirawan says. "You know you're protecting your kids the best when you follow the vaccines as scheduled."