A recent poll has found that 1 in 5 children (20%) who were due for a vaccination had it delayed or put off after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Conducted by the Royal Children’s Hospital (RCH) Melbourne, a sample of Australian parents and carers was asked, over one week in June 2020, about their child’s routine vaccinations during the COVID-19 pandemic. Almost half of the children aged less than 5 years were overdue to receive one or more of their routine childhood vaccinations.
Why aren’t children having their routine vaccinations?
According to the RCH report, parents were concerned about getting childhood vaccinations for a few reasons — including a fear of catching COVID-19 in a health-care facility, such as a GP practice or health centre. Others were concerned about catching the virus on public transport on the way to the health-care service.
Some of the parents surveyed felt they had “too much too worry about” and that vaccinations were not a priority at the time. Some parents reported that the health-care provider they usually take their child to for vaccinations was not offering them due to COVID-19.
'Stay-at-home' directions were also in place in many Australian states and territories between March and June 2020. This was expected to disrupt the usual preventative healthcare practices followed by most parents.
What can happen if I delay my child’s vaccinations?
Delaying childhood vaccinations increases the risk of children contracting vaccine-preventable diseases. There’s also an added risk of lowered herd immunity in the community, placing vulnerable people and babies with immature immune systems at risk. Importantly, this ups the chance of outbreaks – particularly once stay-at-home and physical-distancing restrictions are eased.
Some vaccines, such as for rotavirus, can’t be given after a child is a certain age because they’re no longer effective. When a child misses the age cut-off for vaccinations, or they don’t begin or complete the course, they are at risk of getting the disease.
The timing of vaccines — as well as completing the recommended course — is what makes them so effective.
Will my child and I be safe when we get the vaccination?
All health-care providers, including GP practices, hospitals, community centres and council immunisation providers, have been advised to continue offering immunisation services. Enhanced infection-control measures are in place to protect the public – including children and their parents.
Most vaccination service providers are working creatively to offer alternative clinics, where patients who need a vaccination have limited or no exposure to unwell clients. Many providers have moved their vaccination clinic to larger areas where it’s easier to social distance. Outdoor areas, home visits, drive-through services and ‘car-park clinics’ are being rolled out as alternatives to the usual surgery environment.
8 ways vaccine providers protect your child
Your health-care provider may:
- recommend that just one parent accompany the child
- allow for social distancing, with chairs spaced at least 1.5 metres apart in the waiting areas, or by encouraging patients to wait outside
- offer appointment times rather than have ‘drop-in’ clinics
- provide separate entrances and exits
- ensure no one attends the clinic if they are showing symptoms of being unwell with a respiratory infection, or if they’ve had contact with a suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19
- check that no one attending the clinic has returned from overseas in the past 14 days or are under quarantine orders
- promote hand washing or sanitising upon entering and leaving the clinic
- monitor queuing to ensure everyone is meeting the guidelines for social distancing
Key vaccination points
- There is rarely any benefit to delaying (or, ‘putting off’) childhood vaccinations.
- Vaccination services and providers are doing all they can to protect parents, their children and staff from catching COVID-19.
- COVID-19 has affected many of our health-related behaviours. It’s still important to make sure children receive their vaccinations when they’re due.