Does Your Kid Need a Check-Up?
If you ghosted your kid’s pediatrician this past year, you aren’t the only one.
Maybe you were worried about going to a doctor’s office during a pandemic, or a change in employment affected your insurance. Maybe you definitely meant to schedule an appointment and you wrote it down on a sticky note, and then your 3-year-old spilled orange juice on that sticky note.
For a whole range of reasons, many New Mexico kids haven’t been getting their check-ups lately. And now is the time to get your children caught up.
Dr. Melissa Mason is an Albuquerque pediatrician (and also the chair of the immunization committee for the New Mexico Pediatric Society). She saw the drop-off in check-ups firsthand. Over the last year, she’s been seeing about one-third as many patients as she used to before the pandemic.
“We saw drastic decreases, and I think it was really that families were afraid,” she said. “They were afraid to leave their houses, they were afraid to come into our office because they were scared that they might get sick.” But check-ups are crucial to keeping kids healthy, and the drop-off is worrisome. Dr. Janis Gonzales, New Mexico’s Chief Health Officer for the Early Childhood Education and Care Department, said the drop in vaccinations puts New Mexico kids at risk of outbreaks of diseases like measles or whooping cough.
“We’re definitely at risk of seeing some high outbreaks of flu and some of these other vaccine-preventable diseases,” said Dr. Gonzales.
That’s a risk you can reduce, she said, by getting your child caught up on vaccines. Not only will this help protect your child and those around them from disease, but you’ll soon be needing those updated shot records. With in-person activities returning and the school year starting in August, summer is a great time to get that appointment on the books.
“It is safe to go to the pediatrician, and we do need to get kids caught up, so we don’t start seeing other outbreaks,” said Dr. Gonzales.
The American Academy of Pediatrics even has a new campaign urging families to #CallYourPediatrician, with videos like this:
They also have one with a panda getting a checkup, if that’s more your thing.
The easiest step to take is to (you guessed it) call your pediatrician. Your pediatrician will help you get an appointment scheduled, and find out if your child is behind on their vaccines. You can also visit VaxViewNM.org to look at your kids’ shot records to see if they are due for any shots. Even if they don’t need any vaccines, though, Dr. Gonzales said kids should still come in for check-ups.
“There are a lot of benefits to going in for the well-child check,” she said. “It’s not just about getting caught up on vaccines.” She said going in for a check-up gives parents a chance to talk to a professional and ask questions (“Is it OK that my kid just eats strawberries for dinner?”). Well-child checks are also an important time for pediatricians to observe children’s developmental progress, and refer families to other supports that might be helpful.
Don’t have a pediatrician? If you aren’t sure where to begin, Dr. Mason said families with insurance (including Medicaid) can call the customer service number on the back of their insurance or Medicaid card. The insurance provider is required to help you find a pediatrician who accepts your insurance and is taking new patients.
If your kids don’t have insurance, consider signing them up through Medicaid (start here, or here, to see if your family is eligible). Or, your kids can catch up on their vaccinations at a local public health office. The state Department of Health also offers this tool, where you can enter your address and find nearby health care providers who will work with you to get free vaccines for your kids.
OK, but what about COVID vaccines for kids? When are they coming, and should young children get them?
Children 12 and over can already get vaccinated for COVID-19, and can sign up now at the New Mexico vaccine portal. As for kids under 12, clinical trials are happening now. These trials are testing the COVID-19 vaccines in younger kids. A key thing scientists are working to determine, Dr. Gonzales said, is what size dose of the vaccine is right for children of different ages.
We don’t know when vaccines will be approved for younger children, but Dr. Gonzales said we can likely expect them within the next year. What can families do in the meantime? If you want to get notified when vaccines are available for your kids (and don’t want to have to follow the news about clinical trials) you can sign your kids up now through the state vaccine portal. They aren’t eligible yet, but the portal will send you a text message or email when a vaccine is available for them.
Dr. Gonzales said the rollout of COVID vaccines for kids may look different than it did for adults. Kids are unlikely to be lined up at The Pit for mass vaccinations, and many more will probably get vaccinated in clinics by their pediatricians. So, what should you do? #CallYourPediatrician.
Even though young children don’t tend to get as sick with COVID-19 as adults do, it’s still important to get them vaccinated as soon as vaccines are approved for them. Dr. Mason said the technology used to make the vaccines is proven and safe. Any risk of vaccine side effects, she said, is much lower than the risk from actually getting COVID. That’s true even for kids, who often experience COVID as a milder disease compared to adults, but can still get seriously ill.
“Even though it’s not as bad, it does not mean that it’s a mild and an insignificant thing in kids,” she said. “It’s still worth vaccinating and protecting our kids.”