How COVID-19 Is Impacting Pediatric Care
The coronavirus can affect children’s health in several ways, even if they don’t contract it.
While children can be infected with COVID-19, most do not experience severe complications from the virus unless they have underlying health issues. However, children can still transmit the virus to older, at-risk segments of the population. This is why many schools have turned to remote learning, and those that offer in-person learning require students and staff to wear masks, practice social distancing, and move to remote learning when outbreaks occur.
While few children get seriously ill from the virus, the COVID-19 pandemic is impacting their health and access to pediatric care.
Decrease in Annual Wellness Visits for Children
Social distancing is one of the primary ways that cities and communities around the world help reduce the spread of the coronavirus. Whether through reduced capacity in stores or full lockdowns, the virus has disrupted business as usual.
As a result, people are now less likely to seek healthcare for non-emergencies. Too often this includes well-child visits—annual checkups that are an important part of preventative care. Parents who believe that going to a clinic puts them at greater risk for catching COVID-19 may be hesitant to schedule or keep an appointment. Putting off these routine checkups can be detrimental to a child’s health, as serious health concerns are less likely to be detected early.1
To offset this problem, many clinics now offer a telehealth option, where pediatric nurse practitioners (PNPs) can remotely monitor children’s growth and development and diagnose ailments through videoconferencing.
Decrease in Vaccinations
Skipping annual wellness visits for children also means that fewer children are getting their scheduled immunizations, which prevent infections like diphtheria, hepatitis B, and mumps. Vaccinations typically require multiple doses and are most effective when given at specific intervals during childhood. Since the beginning of the pandemic, there has been a significant drop in the number of immunizations, including up to 60% fewer measles vaccines given in 2020 than in previous years.2
In addition to scheduled immunizations, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also recommends an annual flu shot for children 6 months and older. Seasonal flu is always a health concern, but the CDC emphasizes the importance of flu vaccines in the midst of a health crisis. Pediatric healthcare providers encourage families to stay current on all vaccinations.1
Consequences of Children Learning Remotely
While remote learning helps children keep up with schoolwork while minimizing the spread of disease, it also decreases the availability of important services that schools provide. For many K–12 students, school is much more than just classroom instruction—it provides them with healthy meals five days a week, supportive and caring adults, time with friends, physical activity, and access to books, as well as nursing, counseling, and even dental services. When parents can’t provide necessities due to lost jobs and insurance or other factors, schools play a pivotal role in supporting child wellness.3
Effects on Children’s Mental Health
In the midst of a global health crisis, anxieties are running high. Even if children don’t understand as much about COVID-19 as adults do, they know that COVID-19 impacts their daily lives. When parents or guardians are stressed, those feelings trickle down to children and they may not be prepared to cope with that same level of stress. Add to that the need to engage in social distancing, and children can feel increasingly isolated.
Children need access to mental health care now more than ever, which is another important reason for keeping annual wellness appointments.
How Pediatric Nurse Practitioners Help
Pediatric nurse practitioners (PNPs) work in primary care facilities, community pediatric practices, school health clinics, and other settings. They encourage families to keep well-child and vaccination appointments. PNPs conduct health assessments and make sure that young people—from newborns through age 21—grow and develop as they should. They also provide accurate information about protecting against COVID-19 as well as colds, the flu, and other common childhood illnesses. Additionally, pediatric nurses can check for signs of mental distress and discuss ways to connect with friends in safe ways. They can also point families toward services and resources that support children’s mental health.2
Pediatric Nurse Practitioner Programs
For those wanting to enter the profession, getting a quality pediatric nurse education is crucial. Walden University’s accredited MSN Pediatric Nurse Practitioner Primary Care program delivers the expert instruction you need in a convenient online format. Graduates of the program are prepared to work in community pediatric practices, school health clinics, health departments, and private primary care practices.
Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission, www.hlcommission.org.
Note on certification: The MSN nurse practitioner specializations are designed to prepare graduates to qualify to sit for national nurse practitioner certification exams, which are required for practice as a nurse practitioner in most states. Because no graduate program can guarantee that graduates will be permitted to practice as a nurse practitioner upon graduation, we encourage students to consult the appropriate board of nursing or state agency to determine specific certification exam requirements. Walden Enrollment Specialists can provide information relating to national certification exams; however, it remains the individual’s responsibility to understand, evaluate, and comply with all requirements relating to national certification exams for the state in which he or she intends to practice as requirements vary widely. Learn more about professional licensure. Walden makes no representations or guarantee that completion of Walden coursework or programs will permit an individual to obtain national certification. For more information about nurse practitioner certification exams, students should visit the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners at www.aanpcert.org, American Nurses Credentialing Center at www.nursingworld.org, or other nurse practitioner certification exam websites.