The year was 2011. I was 26, and had just given birth to my second son. Those days are a blur, and not just because having two kiddos under 3 is hard. Although yes, having two kiddos under 3 is hard.
In my case, I had also been up way too late a few nights earlier (because #nobodycansleepat9monthspregnant) and had discovered our laundry room on fire. It’s a story about how bingeing Gilmore Girls actually saved our home and probably our lives too, but we can chat about that over hot tea one day when the world opens back up.
Just know I’m team Gilmore Girls and our house didn’t burn down.
However, we did have to move into a hotel and I promise you, that was excrutiating for all of us (and most likely for the people in the neighboring rooms, too). Nobody wants to bring a newborn home to a hotel.
In particular, I remember one night when we felt utterly hopeless. We were still trembling from the trauma of the week’s events, and we noticed something wasn’t quite right with our sweet Sawyer. He was jittery, and physically trembling. The birth of our first son had also been frightening, involving post-birth seizures for Mama and a NICU stay for Baby, and by now we were so tired and everything seemed so complicated. It had been a roller coaster of a three years. Not another health scare. Please Lord.
But Sawyer’s symptoms got worse, and right before we were about to literally go crazy, we remembered through the fog: oh yeah, the doctors put him on a medicine for eating issues. Maybe that had something to do with it. We rescued the little insert with too-small writing from the trash and started reading.
Sure enough, Sawyer was in the 1% who experienced tremors as a side effect. We stopped the meds, and he stopped shaking. Whew.
Before we knew it, it was time to get the baby his shots, and I remember feeling caught in yet another whirlwind, with no time to ask questions and without even knowing what the questions might be. Instead, we operated on a blind trust that we were doing the right thing. My own insecurities, the pressure of our kids’ health issues, the trauma of our house fire, lack of education, lack of time — all of that fed into it. And while our situation might have been unique, I know many new parents can probably relate on some level.
During pregnancy, it seems like everything goes so slowly, and then, with your baby’s birth, you’re suddenly in the middle of it — the first few months just fly by, with little time in between spit-up and sleepless nights to think things through and figure out what is best for your family.
My kids are a little older now (I currently get to use the middle-school mom hashtag on Insta), but do you know what I can’t imagine? What it’s like for new parents in this very moment of history. In the middle of a global pandemic, facing situations like we did, but with an unprecedented gloom hanging over everything. Even ordinary decisions get complicated and weighty: Do we stay at home, missing well check-ups and vaccinations, or do we risk taking our babies out for an appointment?
Check-ups are vital for a child’s overall well being, and while some health-care nurses and doctors are able to utilize telemedicine, it just can’t replace thorough, physical face-to- face examinations.
DON’T NEGLECT GENERAL HEALTH
Overall in the U.S., well check-ups are down about 50 percent, and many providers worry about the vaccinations that are being missed.
“We should not be so distracted by COVID-19 that we neglect our general health,” the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID) reports. “Immunization should be routine — otherwise, we may soon see outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases in the U.S. and around the world. Combined with another wave of COVID-19, the impact could be devastating for both individual families and the health-care system at-large.”
Here in Nashville, nobody knows how many vaccinations are being missed while families stick close to home, says Elizabeth Williams, M.D., assistant professor of pediatrics at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt.
“Of course, we understand that parents are scared about coming to the doctor during the pandemic, but it is very important to keep children up-to-date on their own vaccination schedule to avoid an epidemic of a vaccine-preventable disease on top of the COVID pandemic,” says Williams. Global data tell us “that otherwise healthy children are not developing severe illness from the COVID-19 virus, but we know that children DO develop severe illness, including death, from the diseases that childhood vaccines prevent.”
So don’t let fear keep you from making and keeping appointments, Williamson says, who points out that Vanderbilt and its satellite clinics are taking every measure possible to keep facilities clean and ensure patient safety, including phone triaging, separating patients with COVID-like symptoms, extra cleaning, and more.
In addition, you can consider a telehealth visit if you have questions about vaccinations or health concerns that don’t require a physical examination.
Perhaps the biggest fear of health-care providers is an outbreak of measles, which Williams says is potentially much more harmful to children than COVID. More than 1,200 cases of measles were reported in the U.S. in 2019 alone.
“Up to nine out of 10 people who lack immunity and are exposed to measles will become infected,” reports the NFID. “In the U.S., about one in five who get measles will be hospitalized, and up to three out of every 1,000 people with measles will die, even with the best care.”
Recent studies have shown that vaccination rates have declined from 2009 to 2018 as some parents have become more hesitant about vaccines. “As families grapple with vaccination fears and questions, one thing is absolutely sure: Their decisions should be guided by valid science, rather than conjecture or misinformation,” advises the Health Testing Centers.
For those on the fence, Williams offers reassurance.
“The safety of all vaccines is continuously monitored in our country through many interconnected systems, so if any concern is identified, we can respond rapidly,” she says. “I understand that some families are scared, so we try to figure out exactly what parents are worried about and ask if we can address these concerns with what we know as health-care providers who truly have our patients’ best interest at heart,” she adds.
2020 Recommended Vaccinations for Birth - Age 6
Learn more about specific diseases, vaccines and more at CDC.gov/vaccines.
AVOID A BACKLOG
Delayed vaccinations during COVID-19 can also create a backlog for students entering kindergarten or the 7th grade, when updated immunization forms are required. With social-distancing orders easing and people starting to feel more comfortable getting out, we may see a mad rush to pediatrician offices and clinics.
“Pediatric practices have not been in a situation like the current pandemic,” Williams says, “so it is very difficult to predict for certain how things will play out. It also depends on how many kids end up being behind with needed vaccines before the school year.”
The Centers for Disease Controls says that providers and public-health officials at all levels will need to work together “to achieve rapid catch-up vaccination.” Parents can also play an important role by planning ahead, ensuring that they have the time to make wise and healthy decisions for their families.