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If LA's Kids Keep Skipping Routine Vaccinations, We Might Have More Than A COVID-19 Outbreak To Worry About

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A nurse wears a protective visor while administering vaccines at St. Johns Medical Center in Altrincham, England during the coronavirus lockdown on April 16, 2020. (Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
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Fewer Los Angeles kids have been vaccinated against diseases like measles and whooping cough since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

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In January and February, the number of immunizations in L.A. County were about the same as in 2019. In March, kids ages 0 to 18 received 55% of the number of vaccine doses as the previous year. By April, it was down to 39%.

Health care providers report vaccine doses to the California Immunization Registry, and the California Department of Public Health provided the numbers to LAist.


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"We know from a lot of history on this that if enough people don't vaccinate, the diseases will rise up," said Dr. Ken Saul, a Thousand Oaks pediatrician.

Unvaccinated kids aren't the only ones at risk. Some people are unable to get vaccines because of their age or weakened immune systems.

'WE'RE NOT GOING TO WAIT'

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The number of vaccines ordered nationwide has plummeted since the coronavirus lockdowns that started in mid-March.

The AltaMed pediatric clinic at Children's Hospital L.A. went from seeing about 350 patients a day in person to fewer than 50, said medical director Liza Mackintosh.

"We recognize that people are scared, so we're not going to wait for them to call us," Mackintosh said.

Instead, the clinic's staff are calling families scheduled for routine vaccine visits and offering a new option -- a drive-up clinic.

Families can receive services in tents outside. Doctors wear masks and face shields to see healthy patients and add a gown when seeing sick patients.

Mackintosh said in-person visits are starting to increase again, though the majority of visits occur via phone or video chat.

The American Academy of Pediatrics, California Department of Public Health and the L.A. County Department of Health say doctors should continue to provide vaccinations for young children.

Saul is encouraging his families to show up, in person, for young children's regularly scheduled visits.

"Pediatricians are all about being proactive and preventing disaster rather than dealing retroactively with disaster," Saul said.

For example, a routine part of an infant check-up is measuring their head. One recent patient's head was growing way too fast, and it turned out to be a cyst in the brain.

"There were no symptoms whatsoever," Saul said. "There's no way you could have picked that up in a telemedicine visit, but in person, we were able to get the cyst removed and the child was fine."

To ensure patient safety, Saul and his staff wear masks and separate well and sick child visits by times of day.

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