Outpatient medical care has been severely disrupted during the COVID-19 pandemic with a reduction of nearly 70% in outpatient visits since March before starting to rebound, Melinda Wharton, MD, said at the virtual meeting of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices.
Pediatrics was among the hardest hit specialties, with a 62% reduction in outpatient visits by April 5, said Dr. Wharton, director of the immunization services division at the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. However, visits for all pediatric age groups increased in May, compared with April, and the CDC emphasized the need to educate families about the importance of routine vaccination and well-child visits, Dr. Wharton said.
The CDC strategies to support routine childhood vaccination include monitoring vaccination service delivery to inform targeted interventions, said Dr. Wharton. In addition, the CDC will continue to support providers by identifying gaps in the Vaccines For Children (VFC) program network, increasing VFC funding, developing guidance materials, and identifying policy interventions.
Many small practices have struggled during the pandemic, and financial support is available through the Provider Relief Fund, which is now available to all Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) providers, said Dr. Wharton.
because more families may now qualify for the program because of changes in job status and income, and parents may not be aware that their children may be eligible, she said.
“Vaccination is an essential medical service for all children and adolescents, ideally in the medical home,” Dr. Wharton said. The CDC’s interim guidance for immunization during the COVID-19 pandemic calls for administering all current or overdue vaccines according to the routine immunization schedule during the same visit, and implementing strategies to get patients caught up, prioritizing newborns, infants, and children up to age 24 months. The guidance includes details on safe delivery of vaccines, including physical distance and the use of personal protective equipment.
In addition, encourage parents to return for well-child visits, and use reminder systems to help keep patients current on visits and vaccines. “Discuss the safety protocols that have been put in place,” Dr. Wharton emphasized. The CDC also offers resources for providers to help communicate with parents about routine vaccination.
Looking ahead, back-to-school vaccination requirements “provide a critical checkpoint for children’s vaccination status,” Dr. Wharton said. Catch-up vaccination during the summer will help clinical capacity manage back-to-school and influenza vaccination in the fall, she emphasized. “Influenza vaccination will be an important strategy to decrease stress on our health care system.”
Flu vaccination strategies should focus on adults at higher risk for COVID-19 infections, such as health care providers. In addition, identifying and reducing disparities will be important for future COVID-19 vaccines, as well as for the flu this season, she noted.
View the complete guidance.
Dr. Wharton had no relevant financial disclosures.