The year 2020 changed many of the ways families operated, from working and schooling to safety protocols and even family fun. The pandemic also resulted in a decline in the rate of childhood immunizations, with some families shying away from getting regular healthcare needs met because of concern about COVID-19 exposure.
Across the United States, there was a 14 percent decline in immunization doses administered in 2020, according to the Center for Disease Control. In Oklahoma, there was a 13 percent drop in childhood vaccine orders in 2020, while in the adolescent population there was a 20 percent decline, which the Oklahoma City-County Health Department calls “alarming,” especially given there had been a steady increase in adolescent vaccine orders from 2017 to 2019.
Though the vaccination rate has declined, the presence of the childhood diseases immunizations protect against is still a reality. The OCCHD has three health clinics open and available to administer immunizations before kids head back to school.
We asked the team at OCCHD more about the importance of vaccines, how to get signed up for their back-to-school vaccine clinics and the current state of COVID in Oklahoma City:
What are the biggest concerns about kids being behind on immunizations, and how does it impact families and our community as a whole?
The biggest concern about children being behind on immunizations is that it puts them a risk of contracting a virus that could potentially have life-altering effects. A great example is meningitis. If a child contracts meningitis, they could lose fingers, limbs, or their hearing. The rest of their lives would be impacted because they did not get a vaccine.
The impact on families and the community can be measured over both the short and long term. In the short term, children miss out on school which impacts their learning. Depending on how long recovery of the illness takes, it could drastically put a child behind in school. In the long term, we as a community are affected because of the cost in both dollars and other resources needed to manage the recovery from the illness, getting children back to school and adults back to work.
What vaccines are school-age Oklahoma children eligible to receive?
Children age 4 to 6 years old need to get a fifth dose of the Dtap vaccine, a fourth dose of the polio vaccine and second doses of MMR and Varicella.
Children age 11 to 12 years old need the Tdap vaccine, which prevents tetanus, Diptheria and acellular pertussis. That age group can also start on the multi-dose human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine and the multi-dose Meningococcal vaccine.
Children age 15 and older can also get the HPV vaccine, though they will have to get three shots, compared to only two shots for young people who start it at 11-12 years of age.
What about vaccines for college-age kids?
Parents should ensure that their child meets college entrance requirements. This is typically meningitis and meningitis B along with all traditional childhood vaccinations. Your child may need a second dose of varicella as Oklahoma does not require a second varicella dose, but all colleges do require two doses of varicella. Parents can review their child’s vaccination record at osiis.health.ok.gov. If the child’s provider does utilize OSIIS, they will need to get a copy of the vaccination from the provider.
Do parents need to be concerned about their kids receiving multiple vaccinations at once?
There is no concern about “stacking” vaccinations together. The body uses the immune system to defend itself from a variety of viruses and other invaders every day. Giving more than one vaccine at a time is acceptable.
What types of reactions can be common when children get vaccines, and how can parents be prepared to help mitigate them?
Normal responses to vaccine administration include fever, tiredness and soreness at the injection site. These are all indications that the body is responding to the introduction of the vaccine and it is building antibodies.
We do not recommend giving acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil/Motrin) prior to any vaccination. These should only be given if the child runs a fever greater than 100.5* F.
What’s the current state of COVID-19 vaccinations for kids in Oklahoma County?
As of July 14, in Oklahoma County, 20 percent of eligible young people (age 12-17) are fully vaccinated. We are expecting COVID-19 vaccines to be available for kids under 12 this fall, possibly as early as sometime in September.
As kids go back to school this fall, what protocols should parents follow to keep kids as safe as possible from COVID-19?
We are all excited about the start of the school year, but it will not come without challenges.
Though we are in a different scenario than we were last school year, we are not out of the woods. People will have to make the personal choice to protect themselves and their families. With masks no longer mandated, it is now a personal choice as to whether or not to use them, especially for those that are unvaccinated and in enclosed public settings.
Unvaccinated individuals are at greater risk of contracting and spreading COVID-19. They also have a greater chance of needing medical attention once they are found to be positive.
For unvaccinated people, it is best to continue to protect themselves in public places by practicing the 3 Ws; wear your mask, watch your distance and wash your hands. COVID-19, like other respiratory viruses, spreads through the air, so by practicing the 3Ws things we afford ourselves the best protection when in enclosed public settings, like in schools.
Vaccination is the best way to protect yourself from any virus. Historically, that is how we control things like measles and chickenpox. But when vaccination is not possible or desired, it is important to protect yourself and your family by reducing the chance of transmission by practicing things that reduce your chances of infection.
Also, with an uptick in cases across the country, we will continue to have to investigate cases and it is of the utmost importance to quarantine when exposed and isolate when sick. These are essential tools to stopping the spread of any virus, so please understand this school year will not go without these instances. It will be important to keep your child home when sick and communicate with your child’s school if your child is found to be positive for COVID or any contagious disease.
From a public health perspective, we will be tracking not only COVID but also other illnesses such as influenza. We will continue to work with area school districts to keep them informed of the latest public health concerns.
Where to get back-to-school vaccines
The Oklahoma City-County Health Department is offering back-to-school and COVID-19 vaccines at the following locations:
- Northeast Health Clinic, 2700 NE 63rd, 405-419-4200
- South Health Clinic, 6728 S. Hudson Ave., 405-419-4119
- West Health Clinic, 4330 NW 10th St., 405-419-4150
Parents and legal guardians can make an appointment by calling the OCCHD clinic closest to them. Appointments can be made three days ahead of time. Legal guardians need to bring their paperwork that states they are the child’s legal guardian.
If parents or legal guardians are unable to take their child to an appointment, another person can bring their child to the appointment. But that person needs a written affidavit from the parent, stating that the parent gives permission for the person to get their child their shots at OCCHD. They need to also provide a copy of the parent’s identification. The affidavit should include: parent name, name of person bringing the child, child’s name and date of birth and that the child can receive the specific vaccination at OCCHD.
Immunizations are offered at a low cost, but people who do not have insurance, are Native American/Native Alaskan or have Soonercare are able to get their children vaccinated at no cost if that child has not turned 19 years old yet. Young people who are 18 years old and did not receive their childhood vaccinations can still get those shots without their parents’ permission or their parents’ insurance.
Learn more about occhd.org.