Don't Delay Your Child's Vaccinations, Especially Now | Opinion

August is the time when families with school-aged children prepare for the start of another academic year. This usually means shopping for supplies, clothes and shoes for growing girls and boys—and a visit to a health care provider for annual exams, sports physicals and recommended vaccines. August is even National Immunization Awareness Month to coincide with these visits.

Well, insert 2020. Some things are different this year, but vaccines are the same—still recommended and still effective.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, our worlds have been turned upside down. Families are trying to figure out what the school year will look like. The familiar back-to-school activities are getting lost in the shuffle or even delayed—including checkups and vaccines.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), childhood immunization rates have plummeted during the pandemic. As governors issued stay-at-home orders and we socially isolated to keep our families safe, many parents have canceled or postponed vaccinations.

Parents, we can't delay these vaccines, especially now.

The CDC has recommendations for how vaccines can be safely administered during the COVID-19 pandemic. Health care providers are demonstrating great creativity and flexibility to safely meet the needs of their patients. For example, some pediatricians are doing parking lot visits for parents who have concerns about bringing their children into the office. Others are designating specific days or hours for well-child visits to make sure their patients remain up to date on vaccines.

The pandemic has had an especially dramatic effect on HPV vaccination rates, which are already lower than ideal in many regions of the United States. The HPV vaccine is a safe and effective way to prevent six types of cancer in men and women. Around 80 percent of people will get an HPV infection in their lifetime; through HPV vaccination today, we can help protect children from cancers later in life.

The CDC recommends HPV vaccination for all 11- to 12-year-olds, beginning in children as young as 9 years old. For those vaccinated before age 15, only two doses are needed. Three doses are required for those aged 15 and older. HPV vaccination is just one of the vaccines recommended for this age group. Tdap and meningococcal vaccines, plus the seasonal influenza vaccine, are also recommended and can be given safely at the same time. Don't miss this chance to make sure your child is protected.

Back to School
"Some things are different this year, but vaccines are the same—still recommended and still effective," explains writer Heather Brandt. AnnaStills/iStock/Getty

We do not yet have a way to prevent the pediatric cancers that afflict most of our patients at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. But HPV cancers? We can prevent those. We can vaccinate our children today to prevent them from getting these types of cancer in the future.

We do not want to allow COVID-19 to disrupt our immunity against other diseases, such as measles, mumps, rubella and whooping cough. And we do not want to allow COVID-19 to derail our progress in preventing HPV cancers through vaccination.

Make your plans today for the usual back-to-school visit to your health care provider for vaccines. It's the best back-to-school gift you can give your child.

Heather Brandt, Ph.D., is director of the HPV Cancer Prevention Program at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.