With social distancing in full effect due to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, parents are wondering if and when it’s OK to take their kids to the doctor, whether for a routine appointment or if their child is sick.
While it’s important that families stay home when they can, health experts say parents should not skip routine appointments, especially those that involve vaccinations.
“The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that we keep up with [routine] check-ups and we prioritize those under 2 because that’s who gets the vaccines, and they need that protection,” Dr. Sara H. Goza, M.D., president of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) tells PEOPLE.
“There is a really important reason for children not to miss their vaccines,” she explains. “If we do that, we will put ourselves at risk for having a vaccine-preventable disease outbreak like measles or whooping cough,” Goza explains.
Goza says that while there can be some flexibility when it comes to older kids’ annual physicals, she advises parents to stay on schedule with vaccinations.
“Even in an ideal world, without COVID-19, not everybody gets them exactly on the right dates, there is some time lag in there,” she says. “Just do not to put it off indefinitely. You want to be as close to on schedule as you can.”
Goza tells PEOPLE that she understands parents’ apprehension about bringing their kids into a doctor’s office during the pandemic, but emphasizes that pediatricians around the country are taking steps to deliver care to patients in a safe way.
“Pediatricians are doing everything in their power to make sure that we keep people safe if they do have to come into our offices,” Goza says. “We are trying to separate ‘sick’ and ‘well’ visits. We are trying to have social distancing for the patients thatare in our office.”
In addition to “meticulous” cleaning of exam rooms, she says, “people are wearing PPE, or at least masks and gloves when they see patients, if not gowns and face shields.”
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She adds that many offices are only seeing “well” children for routine check-ups in the morning and limiting sick visits to the afternoon. In her own practice, Goza asks patients to stay in their cars until it’s their turn to be evaluated.
Other pediatricians are switching to telemedicine. “Most practices have embraced telemedicine to do a lot of the sick care that you can over the phone to determine if you really need to see them in person,” she says.
“The other big thing we are very concerned about going forward and the longer this lasts is the mental health of our children,” Goza tells PEOPLE. “Their routines have been uprooted. There are many families who are under a lot of stress — financially, emotionally, all of those things — which then puts their children under stress.”
Goza explains that children in these situations are likely to act out, further adding to the stress of their parents, calling it “a recipe for disaster.” This is another reason she says parents should keep up their children’s routine appointments, as pediatricians are equipped to monitor this and can provide help.
“We really want to have our eyes on the kids,” she says. “We want to be doing our well visits, to help our parents get through this because that kind of stress can really just impact the whole family.”
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“My advice to parents is to call their pediatricians,” Goza says. “We are equipped to help deal with some of that stress and anxiety and depression, and we have counselors that we know of that are still seeing patients, even if it’s virtually, that may be able to help them too.”
Most importantly, Goza says, the AAP wants parents to know that their pediatricians are here for them during this crisis.
“I think the biggest thing that parents need to know is that pediatrician offices are open. We are here because we want to take care of the children and we will take care of them any way we have to,” Goza says.
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