Across Texas and the nation, many parents are anxious about taking their children to the doctor for fear of exposing them to COVID-19, but physicians are here to offer reassurance and a reminder. While the fear is justifiable, Texas doctors advise parents that routine well visits are safe and important for their child’s health, and assure them "the doctor is in."


As a new school year approaches, the physicians of the Texas Medical Association (TMA) urge parents to schedule these appointments because missed routine care, including missed vaccinations, can put your child’s health at risk.


Valerie Borum Smith, MD, a Tyler pediatrician and a member of TMA’s COVID-19 Task Force, is concerned. The current avoidance of routine care is alarming, she said, especially because Texas has seen outbreaks of measles and pertussis (whooping cough) in recent years. "And now, as the percentage of unvaccinated children increases, the possibility of a widespread outbreak in a community goes up."


Fewer vaccines have been given to kids since the COVID-19 pandemic was declared a national emergency in March, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services. The agency reports dramatic declines in the number of vaccines ordered through the Texas Vaccines for Children program. In March, vaccine orders declined by 10% to 50% across all of Texas’ 10 public health districts. Pediatric offices report similar declines in patient visits and vaccinations.


Well-child exams look at more than just the physical health of a child or adolescent, said Dr. Smith, who is also a member of TMA’s Council on Science and Public Health. During these visits, doctors also assess a child’s developmental, educational, and behavioral health.


"Every day, I discover issues during well-child exams that need attention – from a depressed teenager, to an infant who is not gaining weight well, to a previously undetected heart murmur," said Dr. Smith. "Many of these issues could be very dangerous if an exam was delayed for several months."


Dr. Smith said hers and other pediatric practices are working diligently to ensure the safety of patients. In her Tyler clinic, sick and well-child visits occur in different parts of the building, and patients are screened before visits. Mask-wearing is recommended for everyone who is old enough.


Some physicians offer special hours for well visits. Others space out chairs in waiting areas for social distancing, or have patients wait in their cars. And additional focus is put on keeping the offices disinfected, and screening staff for illness daily.


Parents should call their doctor’s office if they have questions or concerns about how they handle visits, Dr. Smith suggests.


"The entire focus of pediatrics is keeping children healthy, and we are focused now more than ever on making sure our offices are as safe as possible for the health of our patients and their families," she said.


Vaccinations protect young kids and adolescents from serious diseases. To help ensure your kids head back to school safely, be sure they’re up to date on their vaccinations.


If a family lost insurance coverage recently, the children may be eligible for Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program. A call to 2-1-1, provided by the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, can help you find local resources. Any child without insurance can receive vaccines through the Texas Vaccines for Children program. Many pediatricians participate in the program, as do most local health departments.