Now is the time to update routine child vaccinations

Age-appropriate immunizations have dropped sharply since the COVID-19 pandemic began 18 months ago.

No knock on COVID-19, but Dr. Nicole Johnson would like to change the subject and talk about the vaccinations that parents used to worry about before January 2020.

“So many of our children have fallen behind in their vaccinations over the last year and a half, with families stuck at home and social distancing, “ said Johnson, who practices at UW Medicine's Kent-Des Moines Neighborhood Clinic. "These include vaccines that protect against bacteria and viruses that are circulating in our community and that do cause illness in children.”

A recent study by the World Health Organization showed that vaccine rates among children have plummeted globally. By Washington state law, children attending public school must be immunized against diseases such as including measles, whooping cough, chickenpox and tetanus. 

The time to make an appointment to get these vaccinations is now, before sports practices start this month and school begins in September, Johnson said.

Downloadable soundbites of Dr. Nicole Johnson

“We know that if a certain threshold of our population is unvaccinated, that these diseases that used to be rare are the United States can become present again, and that's when we have outbreaks of things like measles. So we do worry about people getting together, that the spread of these diseases can occur.”

Many kids are also behind on well-child visits that would note, for instance, whether a teens has received the vaccine for humanpapillomavirus (HPV), which can prevent cervical cancer and some throat cancers.  And if the child is over 12 years old, a parent should consider getting that child a COVID-19 vaccine, as well.It’s not just about vaccines, Johnson added. COVID-19 has caused many families to stay away from clinics, delaying care for conditions such as speech delays, asthma, or chronic allergies.

The one good bit of news since COVID-19 emerged is the decline in cases of severe asthma and other respiratory illnesses, which Johnson attributed to social isolation and masking practices that families employed.

“During the pandemic, we saw virtually zero cases of RSV (respiratory syncytial virus), virtually zero cases of flu,” she said.

Johnson suggests that any child who will be involved in sports, either through school or a private league, schedule a physical now.

“This is the time to make sure that there is not a cardiac or pulmonary problem that might cause harm to your child if they did really rigorous sports play,” she said. "We encourage all children who will participate in sports to get a yearly checkup, which includes sports-participation clearance."

– Barbara Clements, 253-740-5043,

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