Spread of the COVID-19 virus will continue to be a concern when Allen County students finally return to their schools after being closed in late March, but health officials are also warning about the spread of other infectious diseases as a result of lagging immunization rates.
Super Shot, an immunization clinic founded in Fort Wayne in the early 1990s as a response to low immunization rates and a resulting measles outbreak, reported that nearly 2,700 children in its database are overdue for vaccinations. During a COVID-19 update provided by the Allen County Department of Health, Super Shot Executive Director Connie Heflin said 862 fewer children have been vaccinated compared to the same time last year as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. In March and April 2019, Super Shot clinics saw 1,197 children, compared to just 335 in March and April of 2020.
“Back-to-school season is always our busiest time,” Heflin said. “When you see that we did 109 kids this past March, that’s typically what we do in a three-hour window.”
The number of children being immunized is dropping in states across the country. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that childhood immunizations be maintained during the pandemic and urge parents not to wait.
“When you see the vaccination rates of a community drop, it is not a matter of if a vaccine-preventable disease will emerge, it’s a matter of when,” Dr. Tony GiaQuinta, a Parkview Health pediatrician, said, adding that the present immunization rates expose Allen County residents to diseases that cause meningitis, tetanus, diphtheria and whooping cough, as well as the virus that causes measles — which is much more contagious than the novel coronavirus. “When we are not preventing these diseases, we are really causing harm to our entire community.”
Super Shot, which has moved all of its operations to 1515 Hobson Road, Fort Wayne, is open to provide vaccinations by appointment. The clinic is employing social distancing practices by spreading out scheduling, limiting one parent to one child being vaccinated, checking the temperature of everyone coming in the door, moving families to a cleaned exam room as they check in, and expediting paperwork to limit time in the facility.
The clinic accepts Medicaid and most commercial insurance plans. For anyone uninsured or underinsured, immunizations are $15. However, no one will be turned away for inability to pay. Daytime, evening and weekend appointments are available and can be scheduled by calling 260-424-7568 or emailing email@example.com. Super Shot will also come to childcare providers with more than 15 children.
A growing concern among parents is the recent emersion of Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children — or MIS-C — which has caused symptoms including a persisting fever, low blood pressure and multi-organ inflammation in some children who have had a past history of a COVID-19 diagnosis. However, GiaQuinta said, only about 100 cases have been reported in the U.S. Only one case has been reported in Allen County, Dr. James Cameron, medical director of the Lutheran Children’s Hospital NICU, said. However, he expects more diagnoses to emerge.
GiaQuinta added that parents can also protect their children by encouraging frequent hand-washing, having children ages 2 and older wear a mask when in public, and avoiding large crowds of people when unnecessary.
Unfortunately, it’s not just infectious diseases that are affecting Allen County children’s health. In 2017, Indiana ranked second only to Kentucky for most child abuse reports among the 50 states. With children attending school from home, many of the cases in Allen County have likely gone unreported as 20% of those reports would typically come from the educational system, Allen County Health Commissioner Deborah McMahan said. The vast majority of the cases reported in Allen County involve neglect.
Lisa Hollister, Parkview’s director of trauma and acute care surgery, pointed out that several risk factors for child abuse have become more apparent because of the pandemic, including parental stress and lack of suitable childcare. She encouraged anyone who suspects child abuse in their neighborhood to call the Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline at 1-800-800-5556.
“In my point of view, coronavirus the disease is not impacting children nearly as much as what we have asked them to sacrifice by staying home … The hospitals and businesses won round 1 of (relief) funding — and rightfully so — but the next round of funding from the government needs to go to our school system,” GiaQuinta said, adding that he feels the community needs to ensure schools have enough resources to reopen safely, as he expects COVID-19 cases to rise when students and staff return to their buildings.