Families urged to catch up on kids’ doctor visits

Child being examined by doctor

The pandemic paused many facets of life, and a new report says wellness checkups for children were among them. With school resuming this fall, research from the Georgetown University Health Policy Institute urges Missourians to get kids caught up on preventive care.

Mercy Hospital of St. Louis pediatrician Dr. Maya Moody is president-elect of the Missouri chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. She said children need vision and hearing screenings and checks for growth and developmental milestones.  She added for many children; routine vaccinations also keep infectious diseases other than COVID-19 in control. “We would really like to encourage parents, as to not have a ‘pandemic within a pandemic,’ to keep up on their routine well-child visits,” said Moody. “Just to make sure that we’re keeping the kids healthy.”

Last year saw a 27% decline in the U.S. in pediatric office visits, according to the report, and barriers to care were disproportionately higher for communities and children of color. Moody added that in Missouri, routine vaccinations for preventable diseases declined between 20% and 30%.

While many people have lost their jobs and health insurance, Moody reminded parents that kids can enroll in the Vaccines for Children program. For those kids who are able to safely be vaccinated, the program pays for roughly half of childhood vaccinations nationwide.  “Even if you are uninsured,” said Moody, “there is a vaccine program that can cover anybody up through their 18th year of life for those routine childhood vaccinations.”

The report recommends updates and improvements to the Vaccines for Children Program, including expanding eligibility and allowing kids to get their shots at their doctor’s office rather than a separate location.

Casey Hanson, director of outreach and engagement with the group Kids Win Missouri, said as parents work to catch kids up on their routine care, many face challenges with scheduling if their insurance only covers one visit a year or with waiting lists at doctors offices.

Hanson said mental-health issues also have emerged because of the pandemic. “Maybe where they didn’t have that mental-health need ahead of time, they do now,” said Hanson. “It’s sometimes hard to remember that they’re also still very vulnerable in those ages.” She added that doctors’ offices are taking the proper COVID safety precautions – removing toys and seating from waiting rooms, requiring masks, and separating sick-child visits from wellness visits.