NORTH CONWAY, NH – The COVID-19 pandemic has led many families to postpone regular activities. For many families keeping up with immunizations and health visits for their children was one of those activities.
Dr. Wenda Saunders, a pediatrician at Memorial Hospital’s Mt. Washington Rural Health Care is encouraging families to get caught up with immunizations. “There has been a world-wide drop off in childhood immunizations and regular well-child visits because of COVID-19,” she says. “It is important for keeping your child healthy and for the health of your child’s classmates, day care mates, and friends.”
The Hospital and the Rural Health Center reduced access to hospital services during the early stages of the pandemic, including postponing some check-ups and other visits not deemed critical. Saunders notes that as the hospital has begun increasing access for patients, clinicians are making well-child visits and immunizations a priority. “We’re calling parents whose child had a visit affected by the hospital’s temporary reduction in services. To help schedule everyone we’ve added evening and weekend appointments to make it easier for parents to bring in their children.”
The Centers for Disease Control lists fourteen diseases preventable through vaccinations. These include the familiar measles, mumps, pertussis (whooping cough), and meningitis. Also on the list is polio which, though uncommon in the United States, is still seen in Africa, Asia and other areas of the world. While younger children receive most vaccines, Saunders also recommends the vaccination for the human papillomavirus, or HPV, for both girls and boys. The HPV vaccine is given in two or three doses beginning as soon as age 11. “The HPV vaccine reduces the risk of multiple types of cancers later in life, including cervical in females and oral cancers in males and females.”
Mt Washington Rural Health Practice Manager Lucy Williams says promoting health and preventing disease is the practice’s core mission, and her team has been working for several weeks to reschedule postponed appointments. “Reducing in-office appointments during the early stages of COVID-19 was the right thing to do to ensure patient safety. When we were able to increase access to services, we placed a high priority on well-child visits and immunizations as well as patients who missed appointments for chronic conditions.”
Health care providers, Williams says, learned more about the virus and how it spreads and made necessary adjustments to operations to safely increase access to in-person services. “We have transitioned our efforts to focus on preventive healthcare and have placed a high priority on routine well-child visits and immunizations.”
Williams adds that Mount Washington Valley Rural Health also expanded access by adding evening and weekend hours, and is now open seven days a week for appointments. Appointments can be requested through MyChart or by calling the office 603-356-5472.