Children largely escaped the first wave of COVID, but they may be at the epicenter of a new health crisis stemming from the pandemic, a top national health official said Tuesday in Columbus.
That’s because the routine became rare during at least the first several months of the coronavirus outbreak: child vaccinations, wellness screenings, mental health care and dental visits — especially for low-income children.
“If we are not careful in how we address this, we could give rise to a second public health crisis and that’s the impact of all this foregone care, whether it’s increases in routine illnesses because we’ve missed vaccinations or the screenings not detecting issues in children,” said Seema Verman, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
“For children, the long-term implications are clear.”
During a video roundtable, she urged state health officials and leaders from Ohio’s six children’s hospitals to do all they can to help children catch up on overdue health care services and immunizations to avoid outbreaks of preventable diseases such as measles and mumps.
Data from Medicaid, the tax-funded health insurance program for the poor and disabled that covers 1.2 million Ohio children, suggest there is much work to do.
From March to May, when many doctors’ offices put non-life threatening services on hold to deal with the coronavirus, Ohio, compared to the same period in 2019, saw:
• 101,786 fewer child screening services.
• 70,663 fewer vaccinations for children under age 2.
• 208,934 less dental visits.
More recent federal data show vaccine rates for children have picked up since May, but not enough to make up for the decline earlier in the year.
“From a ‘mom perspective’ I understand this in a different way. When my son was about 4 years old it was a routine health screening that (spotted) a cataract in one of his eyes. … Something like that can actually lead to blindness,” Verma said.
“The care that we got because of that screening was so critical and really saved his vision in that eye.”
Afterward, Verma said she was encouraged by the efforts of Ohio’s six children’s hospitals and state officials who told her they are working together, partnering with schools, holding weekend clinics, expanding telehealth services and stepping up outreach to families.
“There has been so much conversation about reopening schools and the impact of COVID on children and really the bigger risk is these long-term implications that could give rise to second public health crisis where we have millions of children across the country that have not received vital health care services that we know are so important to their long-term development and ability to grow and learn,” Verma said.
In Ohio, just over 11,000 children have been diagnosed with COVID, roughly 7% of all cases, health officials said. About 250 children have been hospitalized and one died.
Debbie Feldman, president and CEO of Dayton Children’s Hospital, said the Medicaid data come as no surprise and reflect what health care providers are seeing.
“COVID thankfully has not made a lot of children really sick directly but it has had a tremendous impact on children indirectly,” Feldman said, pointing to the dramatic reduction in preventative care, immunizations and well visits, and disruption of school.
“We know and understand there has to a balance between the learning environment and ensuring that it is safe for educators and staff, but we also know that disrupting school either completely or providing it virtually is having a long-term impact on our children’s ability to learn, to thrive, and particularly those children most at risk.”
Hospital officials said telehealth has exploded during the pandemic.
“We have been leaning in hard on telehealth, 200,000 visits since the pandemic started,” said Tim Robinson, CEO of Nationwide Children’s Hospital. “We’ve been focused on expanding access to vaccines and well visits but there is a lot of work left to be done.”
This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: National health leader warns Ohioans of ‘second public health crisis’ as kids go untreated