Local Doctor Voices Concerns About Children Contracting Other Illnesses Besides Coronavirus Upon Return To School

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — In the fall, there could be outbreaks of other kinds.

“When kids are back in session, I’m not so much concerned about COVID circulating in them, but other viral illnesses,” says pediatrician Dr. Joe Aracri of AHN Pediatric Alliance. He refers to vaccine preventable illnesses, “like measles, like pertussis, like Haemophilus influenzae that are circulating, that can be quite deadly in children.”

Since the start of the pandemic, fewer kids have come to the pediatrician’s.

“It was difficult to get kids to come into the office due to fear of COVID,” says Dr. Aracri.

As a result, there have been fewer vaccinations, too.

“We’ve been incredibly busy trying to get the kids in to get them immunized. We’re still very far behind.”

About 90 to 95% of children have been getting their routine immunizations, which creates herd immunity, or protection of people around them who are still susceptible.

But with a decrease in the vaccination rate…“Once the population dips below 80%, those vaccine-preventable diseases start to spread, and we’ve seen that in several areas, like measles in California, for example,” he says.

And the anticipation of flu season poses its own challenges.

“The flu vaccination is going to be very difficult this year,” Dr. Aracri says, “First, getting the kids to come into the office to get their flu vaccine. And also operationally, how to get that large number of children to come through the office, socially distant and safe.”

And when kids start to come in with flu-like symptoms pediatricians won’t be immediately testing for coronavirus.

“According to the Department of Health in Pennsylvania, pediatricians have been instructed to exclude other illnesses,” says Dr. Aracri, “So we’re going to be doing a lot of flu testing, strep testing. Flu is more deadly than COVID in children. So we’ve always been concerned about the flu.”

But this year could be different, with masks, social distancing, remote learning, and staggered start dates. “That’s the big question. We have no way of predicting what’s going to happen this year. With social distancing, we may see a milder flu season.”

A pattern noted in the southern hemisphere ahead of us.