Ban on elective services disrupted routine health care for kids

Yesterday the Associated Press reported the following,

A data snapshot from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, or CMS, found that vaccinations, screening for childhood diseases, visits to the dentist and even mental health care dropped precipitously from March through May of this year, when doctors’ offices and hospitals put elective services on hold to confront the coronavirus.

“The absence of these vital health care services may have lifelong consequences for these vulnerable children, and I call on states, pediatric providers, families, and schools to ensure children catch up,” CMS administrator Seema Verma said in a statement.

The data, based on an analysis of billing records, come from Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program, which together cover nearly 40 million low-income children.

Among the findings:

— Early childhood vaccinations declined by 22%, or 1.7 million fewer immunizations for kids up to age 2.

— Time-sensitive screenings for cognitive or developmental problems fell by 44%.

— Even after accounting for increased use of telehealth, there were 6.9 million fewer mental health visits.

— Visits to dentists plunged by 69%.

This is very similar to a trend that we saw with adults cutting down on accessing care during the shutdown period. For instance, a lot of cancer patients delayed screenings, checkups, and follow-up visits in part due to a hospitals’ ban on what they consider “elective procedures” and also due to a general fear of contracting the virus. For children, however, the effects could be worse especially since missed shots could lead to “outbreaks of preventable diseases like measles and mumps”.

“The potential for increased outbreaks of infectious disease due to decreased vaccinations is real, and can result in decreased school attendance, decreased learning, and increased childhood illness in general,” the agency warned. “It is important for schools and families to catch up on well-child visits and ensure that children are up-to-date on their immunizations.”

In the early days of Covid-19, proponents of shutdowns argued that shutting down was merely an issue of lives versus the economy. However, this has proven to be a fallacious belief. Setting aside the fact that a deteriorating economy has significant effects on health, shutting everything down to attend to coronavirus has also brought considerable direct health consequences that will likely linger for the foreseeable future.