Local doctors urge parents to talk with their children’s providers about getting up to date on routine vaccines

By Hilary Dartt • Photo by Trisha Shaffer

According to the Centers for Disease Control, fewer children received their regular vaccines during the COVID-19 pandemic. The numbers in Yavapai County align with national trends over the past year and a half.

As the world returns to pre-pandemic “normal” and healthcare stabilizes, local doctors are urging parents to talk with their children’s providers about getting back on track with routine vaccines (which include those for measles, poliovirus, rotavirus, Hepatitis A and B, and more).

“With kids going back to school, we want to make sure they’re all up to date and protected,” said pediatrician Jennifer Tidroski, DO, who works at Dignity Health, Yavapai Regional Medical Group, Ponderosa Pediatrics and is a member of the Arizona Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. “By getting vaccinated—and getting your children vaccinated—you’re protecting those who can’t, including newborns, infants, and immunocompromised children.”

In the age of the Internet, misinformation about the safety of vaccines is prevalent, Dr. Tidroski said. Not only are vaccines safe, but they prevent diseases that could have serious complications.

Dr. Tidroski explained that vaccines contain weakened or inactive parts of a particular organism that causes disease, the antigen, which triggers an immune response within the body.

Newer vaccines such as the mRNA COVID vaccines contain the blueprint for producing the antigen, rather than the antigen itself. This prompts the immune system to respond by producing antibodies specific to that antigen to fight the disease, as well as form memory cells, to recognize that antigen in the future. The combination of memory cells and antibodies allows the body to respond rapidly to fight infection should the body encounter that antigen again. This way, the body is prepared to fight disease without having to actually get sick the first time.

The diseases we vaccinate for “can have serious complications,” Dr. Tidroski said.

Because we’ve been vaccinating for so long against certain diseases — the first measles vaccine was created and licensed in 1963, for example — we, as a society, don’t necessarily remember how severe they can be, or what kind of complications can develop.

PCV vaccine protects against diseases caused by pneumococcal bacteria. This can cause a range of disease from ear infections to pneumonia to fatal meningitis (infection and swelling of the lining over the brain).

HIB vaccine protects against Haemophilus influenza type B, which was once a leading cause of epiglottitis (swelling of the epiglottis preventing the flow of air into the lungs) and bacterial meningitis in children younger than five. Prior to the introduction of the vaccine, this affected 20,000 children per year with 1,000 deaths.

In some instances, surviving the illness is not the end of the story. For example, chickenpox can reappear later in life as shingles, causing a very painful rash that can have permanent consequences. And contracting measles when younger than age two can lead to subacute sclerosing panencephalitis, a fatal disease of the central nervous system that appears seven to 10 years later.

Studies have shown that in places with higher vaccine exemption rates, outbreaks of preventable diseases, including pertussis (whooping cough), have occurred.

With pressures and information coming from all angles, Dr. Tidroski said, “this is a hard time to be a parent. It’s important that parents feel comfortable discussing vaccines with their healthcare providers. For those of us who dedicate our lives to taking care of children, it is important to us to help parents navigate these difficult times, provide accurate information, and answer their questions regarding protecting their children’s health.“