About a third of children who have been injured or unwell during the COVID-19 pandemic have had their health care delayed by a parent over concerns about contracting the virus, a survey by the Royal Children’s Hospital (RCH) in Melbourne has found.
- One in five children under five years of age have had vaccinations delayed
- Telehealth consultations at the Royal Children’s Hospital have increased by up to 75 per cent
- The hospital is setting up a drive-through vaccination clinic
The National Child Health Poll of more than 2,000 Australian parents of 3,500 children, also found one in five children aged under five had a routine vaccine delayed since the start of the pandemic in March.
“The main reason parents gave for delaying care was fear or concern about their child or themselves catching COVID-19,” Anthea Rhodes, a paediatrician at the Royal Children’s Hospital, said.
She said while it was important to acknowledge that fear, parents should not delay seeking medical treatment.
“Healthcare facilities are safe places for families to access care for their children,” Dr Rhodes said.
She said some parents thought vaccinations were not as important while their children were mainly at home.
Dr Rhodes said it was important for parents to realise if vaccinations were not kept up to date, children would be at risk of contracting diseases such as whooping cough, measles and chickenpox when they returned to school and childcare.
If the community as a whole was not up to date with vaccinations, herd immunity could fall and “we risk outbreaks”, Dr Rhodes said.
“So the last thing we want to see off the back of the coronavirus pandemic is outbreaks of these other preventable diseases.”
Telehealth, drive-through vaccinations on offer
In response to the concerns, the RCH has launched a drive-through immunisation service to allow parents to get their kids vaccinated safely.
“It’s available for all children in Victoria who are due or overdue a routine vaccination,” she said.
Dr Rhodes urged parents to access care closer to home if possible and said other agencies were expected to offer similar vaccination services as well.
The increase in telehealth appointments has been “enormous”, going from 5 or 10 per cent of appointments at the RCH to as high as 60 and 75 per cent.
Since the start of the pandemic 11,000 appointments have been delivered by telehealth.
Dr Rhodes said families who were anxious about accessing health care should start with a phone call to see if there was an alternative to face-to-face care.
The Royal Children’s Hospital has also seen a 60 per cent ion normal activity since the pandemic began.
Dr Rhodes said a lot of illnesses, such as gastro and flu were occurring at unusually low rates this year, which accounted for some of the downturn.
Last month, four cases of coronavirus were linked to the RCH, including a patient, two parents and a hospital worker.
Fewer than 15 children have been admitted to the RCH to date with COVID-19.
“Our experience, and that of our colleagues around the world, has been that fortunately for children, in the vast majority of cases, coronavirus is a very mild illness, often asymptomatic, and it is unlikely to make children very unwell,” she said.