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With Covid-19 vaccinations possibly on the horizon for children ages 12 to 15 in the United States, pediatricians are concerned about the challenge of getting children up-to-date on their childhood vaccines and balancing that with scheduling potential Covid-19 shots.

“We have seen throughout the pandemic that there has been a decline in routine immunizations, and that does concern me greatly as a pediatrician because I know that many children have missed other important vaccines for diseases like measles or whooping cough – which, like Covid-19, can be deadly,” Dr. Lisa Costello, a pediatrician at WVU Medicine Children’s Hospital and a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Committee on State Government Affairs, told CNN on Friday.

Parents are urged to get their children caught up on immunizations since, Costello said, eventually younger children could soon also be eligible to get vaccinated against Covid-19.

Signs first emerged around the spring of last year that childhood vaccinations have plunged since the pandemic began. One study published in May 2020 by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the number of childhood vaccines administered in Michigan dropped by as much as 22%.

“It’s been documented over the past year that routine childhood immunizations have declined because people weren’t going for well child exams. People were avoiding health settings when not absolutely necessary, and so those rates dipped,” Jill Rosenthal, senior program director at the National Academy for State Health Policy, told CNN on Friday.

Now, “they’re getting back to normal for some populations of kids, and some populations of kids are still a bit behind. So, there’s a real concerted effort right now to catch kids up on those routine immunizations, but there’s also a blackout period that no one can have other vaccines at the same time that they’re getting the Covid-19 vaccine,” Rosenthal said.

“So, it’s an interesting dilemma of how states and providers are going to think about trying to catch kids up at the same time that the Covid-19 vaccine is becoming available (for children ages 12 to 15) – and particularly right now because a lot of the catch up routine immunizations happen as a result of school requirements,” Rosenthal said. “Summer, maybe early fall, is a time where you see concerted efforts to make sure kids are fully immunized.”

It’s recommended to wait two weeks after getting the Covid-19 vaccine before getting other immunizations, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians.

“We do not yet know whether we will be able to co-administer vaccines – meaning you may have to get the Covid-19 vaccine solo, not with other vaccines,” Costello said.

The Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine, which is being considered for authorization in children and teens ages 12 to 15, is administered as two doses, three weeks apart. 

“Then you have to wait two weeks after that,” Costello said. “So, it’s really important that parents now are choosing to get their children caught up on other vaccines that they may have had to miss, even if they’re under age 12.”

Costello added that she has treated children of various ages for Covid-19 in the hospital – from a two-month-old baby having trouble breathing, the infant’s small chest slowly expanding up and down – to a 17-year-old teen needing oxygen support. She hopes that the potential roll out of Covid-19 vaccines for children can help curb the risk of young people getting sick.

Costello said, “It’s going to be important that they are vaccinated – to help protect themselves, but also to protect their families and their loved ones and their communities.”

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