Restrictions from the COVID-19 pandemic caused 23 million children to miss their annual checkups, leaving some parents playing catch-up on their child’s recommended vaccinations. Health care experts say that taking your child to see their pediatrician for well-child visits and recommended vaccines is one of the best things a parent or guardian can do to protect their child and community from serious diseases that are easily spread. This is especially true as kids head back to school, whether for the first time or as a senior in high school. Katya Gerwein, MD, a pediatrician at Bayside Medical Group – Berkeley with Stanford Medicine Children’s Health, answers frequently asked questions about wellness visits and vaccines.
Is it safe to take my child to a hospital or clinic for their wellness check?
Yes, it is safe, and necessary. Hospitals and pediatricians’ offices are all taking extra steps to protect against viruses, including the virus that causes COVID-19. Stanford Medicine Children’s Health clinics are following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendations, which include increasing cleaning and disinfecting of surfaces, requiring masking for adults and children over age 2, restricting visitors, and placing visible reminders about social distancing protocols.
Why should I take my child in for well-child visits and vaccinations if they have been at home most of the past two years?
If you put off doctor visits during the COVID-19 pandemic, now is a good time to get your child caught up. Children and teens need regular checkups with their doctor to make sure their growth development is on track, to discuss nutrition and behavior, and to get the vaccines they need to stay healthy. Not only is staying up-to-date on childhood vaccinations vital to keeping your child healthy, but it can help prevent new outbreaks and keep the community safe as well.
For children with chronic illness, missing regular wellness visits can negatively impact health well into adulthood.
What does a well-child visit consist of?
Pediatricians will monitor growth and developmental milestones, check blood pressure and other vital signs, conduct hearing and vision screenings, offer routine testing for blood lead levels, and check for infections or injuries. For adolescents we provide menstrual care and depression screening. We can also conduct sports physicals for young athletes.
Is mental health a part of the wellness check, and if so, why is that important?
Yes, assessing your child’s mental wellness is part of the checkup and needed, more than ever. This is when we can learn of any changes in your child’s usual activities, mood, and overall health. We can learn how children are coping with school, friends, family, and any other life changes.
How often should I take my child in for a checkup?
It depends on their age, but generally once a year. It is extra-important to get teens in because this population might be less likely to discuss health issues or questions when they are at home and more comfortable talking to their physician.
Are there certain vaccinations that my child needs before school starts or during the school year?
Well visits help ensure that your child gets the required vaccines to attend school, go to day care, and participate in sports. According to the CDC, everyone 6 months of age and older should get an influenza (flu) vaccine every year.
- At 4 to 6 years of age, children should receive vaccines for diseases such as diphtheria, tetanus, and whooping cough (pertussis), called DTaP; polio; measles, mumps, and rubella, called MMR; and chickenpox.
- At 10 to 18 years of age, kids and teens should get vaccines for HPV, to help protect infection and cancers caused by HPV, and for meningococcal diseases, as well as a booster immunization for DTaP.
Tips to calm anxiety
What are some tips to help anxious kids when they go to the doctor’s office for checkups?
For kids who are scared of going to the doctor, let them know what to expect and why going to get a checkup can be a big help. Validate their concerns, and let them know the wellness visit is routine, that even parents go in for checkups. Or you can ask the doctor’s office in advance if they offer any rewards for patients. Some small children are very motivated by stickers.
COVID-19 vaccines for children and teens
Most children and all teens can also get COVID-19 vaccines. The CDC recommends that everyone ages 6 months and older get a COVID-19 vaccine to help protect against severe COVID-19. Vaccination has proven to lessen transmission, severity of disease, and death. COVID vaccines are offered by your Stanford Medicine Children’s Health provider and at select clinic locations.