Fear of contracting COVID-19 prevents parents from taking kids for vaccination

New Delhi: Parents are delaying vaccination for kids by avoiding hospital visits to prevent their exposure to coronavirus, even as pediatricians call it a disturbing trend as skipping timely administration of vaccines can have long-term impact on children’s health.

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The experts said parents should take their children for timely vaccination, especially in the first year of a child’s life.

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“I had a patient yesterday who came to me after three months for vaccinating their child for polio. There are certain vaccines that you cannot catch up. For instance, the rotavirus vaccine is limited to a specific time. The last dose can be given by seven months. The vaccines act best when they are administered on time,” Rahul Nagpal, Director, Pediatrics, Fortis Hospital Vasant Kunj said on Sunday.

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Vineet Kwatra, Head and Senior Consultant, Department of Pediatrics and Neonatology, Medeor Hospital said there were few patients in the first three to four months of the pandemic outbreak due to the lockdown, fear of contracting the infection and lesser number of clinics which were functional.

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“Parents are still very hesitant and are unnecessarily delaying vaccination. There are vaccines which are administered at six weeks, 10 weeks and 14 weeks, and they should not be missed. They can wait for a month or so but not beyond that.

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“Under normal circumstances, a vaccine can be delayed by seven days. In the second year of a child’s life, vaccines can be delayed by one or two months but not beyond that,” Kwatra explained.

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He said he has had patients coming to him in September for vaccination of their kids which were due in March since they were scared of stepping out.

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Assuring parents, Nagpal said many doctors have separated their immunisation clinics from the regular clinics to ensure that children are not exposed to other patients.

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“… I have specific vaccination days and I do not see any other patient that day. Only one person is allowed inside my clinic with the child. Earlier, the whole family would come. After thermal checking and other checks, I vaccinate the child and encourage the parents to talk to me over phone or WhatsApp after stepping out. I keep aside 5 to 10 minutes for that,” he said.

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He added that the entire place is sanitised after every patient visit.

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Underlining the importance of vaccines, Kwatra said primary vaccines are administered in the first year of a child’s life and these are most important and should not be delayed.

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These include pneumococcal, polio and DPT vaccine, he said, adding that measles vaccine is crucial in the first year.

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“If a child catches measles, it reduces the immunity greatly,” he noted.

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In the second year of life, a child is given booster vaccines which are also important but a bit of delay is not harmful, Kwatra said.

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Sandhya, a resident of north Delhi’s Burari, said, “I have been delaying the vaccination of my 18-month-old daughter because of COVID-19 scare. The vaccination was due in August, but I have been scared to take my child out due to the pandemic.

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“Elders are fine with wearing face masks, but kids do not like them. We cannot force them to wear such masks,” she rued.

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Neetu Singh, who had a one-and-half-year-old girl said, “My daughter catches cold and cough very easily. During this pandemic, we are scared for her wellbeing. So we have delayed her vaccination by a couple of months.”

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Dr Suresh Kumar, medical director of LNJP Hospital, said, “It’s true that other health ailments have taken a backseat. Ours is a COVID-only facility and parents are scared to come for immunisation over fears of catching the virus. Even private practitioners have closed their clinics since they are scared of catching the infection.”

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