The coronavirus pandemic has halted a lot of things, but there’s at least one thing it can’t stop: kids from growing.
Because of that, the pandemic also can’t stop the need for well child appointments and vaccinations. Making sure infants, children and adolescents stay healthy is a priority for parents and health care providers alike.
Pediatrician Tracy Graham, at Sanford Children’s Clinic in Klamath Falls, Oregon, wants to be sure kids keep up with their vaccinations. The clinic has implemented new safety measures to make sure they can do just that.
“We definitely want to vaccinate against the things we can prevent,” Dr. Graham said. “And that will include influenza vaccinations in the fall.”
Parent and foster parent Sandy Hubbard of Keno, Oregon, has remained diligent about taking the children in her care to their appointments. She’s had plenty of experience — and time in exam rooms — as the mom of two biological children, six adopted children and more than 200 foster children.
“I’ve done my research. I’ve looked into vaccines. I’ve heard all the pros and cons. I just feel like, as a parent, it’s my duty to keep my kids healthy,” Hubbard said. “And if this is one step in that direction, then I need to do it, and they shouldn’t get behind.”
Dr. Graham shares some key points about well child exams and vaccinations here.
What is a well child exam?
“It’s an opportunity to come in and see your primary care provider to address the overall health and well-being of your child,” Dr. Graham said.
Providers consider growth and developmental milestones, along with vaccines. Parents can bring up underlying concerns or questions they have about their child’s health or development.
Hubbard appreciates the attention the clinic providers give to her questions. “If whoever I’m seeing doesn’t have the answers, they don’t have a problem with trying to find the answer, or ask another doctor to get to the bottom of what’s going on,” she said.
The comprehensive well child exam also covers the sports physical needs of adolescent athletes.
How often should a child be seen?
The schedule the providers follow during a child’s first year includes visits at 2, 4, 6, 9 and 12 months, with vaccinations given at all but the 9-month visit. Children receive vaccinations at 15- and 18-month visits as well.
Children then continue with annual exams at age 2, receiving boosters at age 4 and again at 11 or 12.
Why is a well child exam important?
“Even in kids who are at ages where we don’t have routine vaccinations, it’s still a great thing to be able to make sure that, yes, they’re following their growth curves,” Dr. Graham said, checking whether kids might be overweight or underweight.
“We also want to look at how they’re doing behaviorally and mental health wise. Are they developing appropriately? Are they making friends? In older kids, are we seeing any signs of depression?” Dr. Graham added.
“It’s also a chance for older kids, especially teenagers, to have an opportunity to talk about their body and their health and their wellness with someone who is not a parent.”
Why are vaccinations important?
“I think you can’t stress enough the importance of childhood vaccinations on the appropriate schedule because the data’s clear: It saves lives,” Dr. Graham said.
“There is nothing worse than sitting at the bedside of a child who is dying from something you could have prevented.”
Why is now a good time to schedule a wellness exam?
In a typical busy summer at Sanford Children’s Clinic, child wellness exams would have to be scheduled a month or two in advance. However, social distancing has helped lower the number of children coming in with illnesses, and the clinic has the flexibility to schedule well child exams in far less time.
Currently, well child exams are being scheduled for mornings and early afternoons, with appointments for illnesses generally scheduled for later in the day.
What COVID-19 precautions is Sanford taking?
The Klamath Falls clinic is aggressively screening people for COVID-19 symptoms and exposure over the phone, Dr. Graham said.
“Anyone who is viewed as a possible COVID patient is then checked in from their car.”
At that point, the clinic decides whether they think the patient can come into an exam room in the building, or whether a provider should come out in protective equipment to do a car visit.
This clinic has always had separate waiting areas for well children and sick children, but now the furniture has been arranged for social distancing. Additionally:
- Plexiglas separates front office staff from visitors.
- Clinic employees are screened each day for symptoms.
- Employees and visitors are required to wear masks; visitors are asked to bring their own, if possible.
- Sanitization in the clinic is continual.
- Telemedicine appointments are being scheduled for some children with chronic conditions.
As a parent currently taking care of seven kids 15 and younger, Hubbard has made plenty of appointments at the Sanford Children’s Clinic during the pandemic. She feels secure there.
“Sanford is doing their part to keep our kids in our family safe by making sure their office is clean and that their staff is healthy,” Hubbard said.
How can people schedule an appointment?
- COVID-19 Q&A: Preparing for new school year, flu season
- Well child visits important for children of all ages
- Vaccines for Children program offers free immunizations