The Very Real and Long-Term Consequences of Skipping Childhood Immunizations

Child Health | one month ago

The Very Real and Long-Term Consequences of Skipping Childhood Immunizations

We're all aware of the delays and missed opportunities caused by COVID. Some families may have even delayed annual check-ups. While the reasoning is understandable, those kids likely missed out on critical disease-preventing vaccines.

Of all the things the COVID-19 pandemic interrupted for kids – everything from school, extracurricular activities, special events and just hanging out with friends, regularly scheduled check-ups and immunizations are the most concerning for pediatricians like Rhonda Patt, MD, medical director of Atrium Health Levine Children’s Charlotte Pediatrics.

Fortunately, getting caught up on childhood immunizations is as easy as contacting your pediatrician’s office. You can also contact them withquestions about COVID-19 vaccines for your child or make an appointment via MyAtriumHealth or AtriumHealth.org/COVID19vaccine.

Keeping Your Child Healthy Today and Tomorrow

“Immunizations are one of the most vital components of childhood health,” says Patt. “Missing or delaying them puts your child and immunocompromised people in the community at risk of contracting diseases that can have serious consequences,” including:

  • Diphtheria, Tetanus and Pertussis
  • COVID-19
  • Haemophilus influenzae (the cause of serious spinal, brain lining and bloodstream infections)
  • Hepatitis A and B
  • Human Papillomavirus (HPV)
  • Influenza
  • Measles, Mumps and Rubella
  • Meningitis
  • Pneumonia
  • Polio
  • Rotavirus
  • Varicella (chickenpox)

Vaccines protect children from these diseases, some of which can lead to hospitalization or even worse. “For example, pertussis (whooping cough) can be a very serious and sometimes fatal disease in infants,” says Patt. But vaccinating infants and expectant mothers against this disease significantly reduces that risk.

The shots given during childhood don’t just protect kids while they’re young. Protection carries through into adulthood in many cases and sometimes with a booster, such as the tetanus and diphtheria shot recommended every 10 years for adults. The HPV vaccine series, which should start in the tween years, helps prevent cervical cancer, as well as head and neck cancers for which HPV is a leading cause. 

Staying on Track and Catching Up on Childhood Shots

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) sets the schedule for childhood immunizations. As Patt stresses, the medical and public health experts on this committee base their recommendations and guidance for the safe use of vaccines on scientific evidence.

The schedule is divided up between children at birth to 15 months and those 18 months to 18 years, with a significant number of shots happening in the earlier age group.

“This is when children are most vulnerable to severe disease if exposed to certain viruses and bacteria because their immune systems are not fully developed,” says Patt.

Parents, who skipped their child’s well check and immunizations during the pandemic or for other reasons, can rest assured that their kids won’t be overloaded with shots when they’re ready to get back on track. The CDC’s advisory committee has an immunization catch-up schedule for children who are behind on their vaccines. It spaces shots out so that a child is not vaccinated too frequently, notes Patt. 

Failing to Vaccinate Gives New Life to Old Diseases

Most vaccines aren’t 100% effective, but when enough people are immunized against a disease, it creates herd immunity, which reduces the likelihood of infection for everyone, as many of us have learned during the COVID-19 pandemic. When vaccination rates drop, herd immunity is diminished and serious diseases that had become almost non-existent can reemerge.

Measles is the perfect example. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), major measles epidemics occurred every few years and caused as many as 2.6 million deaths per year before the introduction of a vaccine in 1963. Unfortunately, the progress made by that vaccine has recently been undercut by a drop in vaccinations, which the WHO says “has led to a 556% surge in the number of reported cases and a 50% increase in deaths from the disease since 2016.”

Both the WHO and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services say that vaccines are one of the most successful and cost-effective disease prevention measures available to society, but vaccine delay or hesitancy threatens to undermine this. For the unvaccinated, their lack of protection from highly preventable diseases is coupled with other issues that vaccinated children and adults don’t have to worry about, such as:

  • A difficulty or delay in being diagnosed or treated for diseases that today’s doctors are less familiar with because eradication was almost achieved
  • The chance of having to isolate or quarantine if there’s a disease outbreak at your school or community
  • The risk of being hospitalized or suffering serious long-term complications like those associated with meningitis, which include potential hearing loss and learning disabilities
  • More time missed from school or work due to illness

Seeking Information and Advice about Immunizations

Patt believes that the prevalence of false information about vaccines is what triggers most parental fear about getting their children immunized. She encourages vaccine-hesitant parents to make an appointment with their child’s pediatrician to specifically discuss their concerns.

In addition, she says parents can trust reliable resources like healthychildren.org, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the CDC because they are fact-checked sources of medical information unlike personal social media posts.

Contact your pediatrician to get back on track with your child’s immunization schedule. To find a pediatrician, or learn more about pediatric services available at Atrium Health Levine Children’s, visit online.

Read these tips to help prepare your child for vaccinations.