COVID-19: Catching Up on Recommended Vaccines and Visiting Healthcare Providers

Following months of shutdown, and facing a slow reopening of communities, some parents are wondering how to get their children caught up on routine immunizations. Most pressing are children younger than 2 years of age, who may have missed more than one visit. Not only are parents concerned about getting children caught up, but how to do so safely, given that COVID-19 is still circulating. In particular, they are concerned about visiting offices that may also have patients seeking care for COVID-19 infection. Read on to find:

  • Tips for catching up on vaccines
  • Additional vaccine considerations for particular age groups
  • Steps providers may be taking to protect patients from exposure to COVID-19 during visits
  • Tips for visiting provider offices during this time

Catching up on overdue vaccinations

If your child missed any well-care visits during the COVID-19 shutdown, they may also be behind on routine vaccinations. Because more children are currently behind on vaccines, it is possible that as society reopens, we will witness an increase in vaccine-preventable diseases. Therefore, it is wise to get your child caught up soon, particularly those younger than 2 years of age who may have missed more than one visit and several vaccines.

Some tips for navigating this scheduling:

  • First, call your child’s healthcare provider to schedule an appointment. Importantly, realize that provider offices may have fewer appointments available as they work to keep everyone safe.
  • Second, if you know your child missed vaccine visits, ask the person on the phone if your child will be able to get all vaccines that they need or if they will require a few visits to catch up. If the latter, you may be able to schedule more than one appointment.
  • If you are not certain whether your child is behind on vaccinations — or if you are not sure how many vaccines they need — inquire on the phone, so you know what to expect and can prepare yourself and your child.
  • Because providers stock different combination vaccines and because offices vary in their staffing and scheduling, they may have different approaches for catching up patients who fell behind on vaccinations during the shutdown. You can check their websites, social media posts, or phone messages for specific information. Some providers may be more proactive in terms of contacting parents to schedule appointments or sending information in the mail. If you have questions, contact your child’s office and inquire directly.
  • Because some of the symptoms of COVID-19 and influenza are similar, this year, it will be more important than ever to make sure everyone in the family gets an influenza vaccine. This proactive measure will help in a few ways. First, if someone develops respiratory symptoms, healthcare providers will be in a better position to diagnose what is happening. Second, if more people are vaccinated against influenza, there will be less spread, which will help with managing medical resources in the fall and winter. This will be particularly important if COVID-19 cases spike during the same period.

In recent years, influenza vaccines became available in late summer or early fall. So, depending on when your appointments are scheduled, see if getting influenza vaccine will be an option. If not, check when the office expects to start vaccinating against influenza, so that you can schedule early.

Considerations for specific age groups

  • Younger than 2 years of age — Because this age group has more frequent appointments, and typically receive more vaccines, they may have fallen further behind than children in other age groups. However, it is important to realize that vaccines require a certain amount of time between doses, called minimum intervals, so it may take multiple visits to get back on track. Work with the child’s healthcare provider to develop a plan that accounts for both missed doses and appropriate intervals between doses, so that your child is caught up as soon as possible. For tips before, during and after appointments, check out “Age Groups and Vaccines: Birth to 2 Years.”
  • Children between 4 and 6 years of age — If your child will be starting preschool or kindergarten in the fall, check if they will need any vaccines. You can usually find out from the school district or daycare. Often, they will have vaccine requirements posted on their websites. If vaccines are needed, make an appointment early in the summer, even if you are not sure the school will be open this fall. Because practices are working to keep individuals safe during visits, seeing patients who may be infected with COVID-19, and working to catch up on well visits missed during the shutdown, appointment options may be limited. For tips before, during and after appointments, check out “Age Groups and Vaccines: 4 to 6 Years.”
  • Adolescents and teens — If your child will need certain vaccines before returning to school in the fall, or if your child will be starting college, schedule appointments early. Because practices are working to keep individuals safe during visits, seeing patients who may be infected with COVID-19, and working to catch up on well visits missed during shutdown, appointment options may be limited. So, the sooner you schedule, the less likely that you will be in a situation in which your child cannot get necessary vaccines before the start of school. For tips before during and after appointments, check out either the “Age Groups and Vaccines: Adolescents” or “Age Groups and Vaccines: Teens/College” pages.
  • Adults — If you have an appointment scheduled, it is a good time to check if you need any vaccines. Likewise, watch for influenza vaccine availability as the summer progresses. If you typically get influenza vaccine at your healthcare provider’s office, you may want to inquire earlier than usual as to when they will have vaccine available, since appointments may be limited. Find out more about adult vaccines on the page, “Age Groups and Vaccines: Adults.”

Visiting healthcare provider offices in the age of COVID-19

Some people are concerned about seeking healthcare during the COVID-19 pandemic because of the risk of being exposed to the virus. While this concern is understandable, it is important to realize that healthcare institutions and practices are, like other venues, taking steps to ensure that people are safe when visiting.

Some of the steps providers are taking may include:

  • Having patients stay in their cars, rather than sit in the waiting room, or completing some portion of the appointment in the car.
  • Using telemedicine, either phone or video conferencing, for appointments or doing part of the appointment using telemedicine and part in-person.
  • Staggering appointments to decrease the number of patients and staff in the office at one time.
  • Scheduling well visits and checkup appointments in the morning and sick visits in the afternoon.
  • If practices have more than one office location, they may have designated one site for well visits and one for sick visits.

Tips for visiting provider offices during this time:

  • Most importantly, do not forgo medical care because of a fear of exposure to COVID-19. This can cause health issues to worsen or result in an emergency later. If you are not comfortable to go for a visit, schedule a call with your healthcare provider to decide whether you need an in-person visit and to discuss your concerns about possible COVID-19 exposure.
  • If you think you or the patient may have COVID-19, call the provider before going to the office.
  • To know what to anticipate, and to prepare your child for any changes, ask about current procedures when you call to make the appointment or when confirming the appointment.
  • Try to only take people from your home who have an appointment. If you need to take other children who do not have appointments, try to take another adult with you, so that everyone other than the patient can remain in the car.
  • Wear masks, except children less than 2 years of age, and use hand sanitizer as soon as leaving the office. Also, have everyone wash their hands as soon as you get home.
  • Remind yourself and your children not to touch their eyes, nose or mouth while at the appointment.
  • Try to stay at least 6 feet from others who may be in the office during the appointment. Likewise, even if your provider is allowing people in the waiting room, see if you can wait outside or in your car until it is time to be seen.
  • If you have a copay, try to use touchless payments or have the cash in an easy-to-reach place, so you do not need to dig through a purse or bag while in the office.
  • Likewise, do not take unnecessary items into the office, especially bags and purses that you may have a tendency to sit on surfaces while at the appointment.
  • If you have multiple children that need vaccines, try to schedule back-to-back appointments, so you do not have to go to the office more often than necessary. But, if you think one of the children will need more attention during the visit, or get upset and cause the other child to also get upset, you may prefer to schedule separate appointments. Only you can decide which approach makes sense for your family.

Reviewed by Paul A. Offit, MD on June 08, 2020

Materials in this section are updated as new information and vaccines become available. The Vaccine Education Center staff regularly reviews materials for accuracy.

You should not consider the information in this site to be specific, professional medical advice for your personal health or for your family's personal health. You should not use it to replace any relationship with a physician or other qualified healthcare professional. For medical concerns, including decisions about vaccinations, medications and other treatments, you should always consult your physician or, in serious cases, seek immediate assistance from emergency personnel.