Nearly 1 in 5 Parents Put Off Care for Their Kids in Pandemic

Jaleesa Baulkman

August 23, 2021

Editor's note: Find the latest COVID-19 news and guidance in Medscape's Coronavirus Resource Center.

Many families delayed much-needed healthcare for their children out of fears that they may be exposed to SARS-CoV-2, according to data from the Urban Institute April 2021 Health Reform Monitoring Survey.

Data from 9067 adults aged 18 to 64 years indicate that nearly 1 in 5 parents delayed or did not get care for their children in the past 12 months because of fear of exposure to the virus.

"It's not surprising given the timing of the survey ― April 2021 ― when many people couldn't get a vaccine yet and were reporting delayed care because of concerns about exposure during the past 30 days," study author Dulce Gonzalez, BA, a research associate in the Health Policy Center at the Urban Institute, told Medscape Medical News.

In a previous survey that the Urban Institute conducted in September 2020, 28.8% of parents reported delaying or forgoing one or more types of healthcare for their children because of virus concerns or healthcare practitioner service limits.

These concerns still affect parents' decision making when it comes to their child's health. Nearly 1 in 10 parents reported that they had skipped doctor's appointments for their children in the past 30 days. More than 1 in 10 adults forwent their own healthcare in the past month for the same reason.

"I think it's important for parents to understand that healthcare workers and healthcare facilities are equipped to prevent infections from spreading," Mundeep Kainth, DO, MPH, who was not involved in the study, told Medscape Medical News. "COVID-19 is not the first infection that we've seen in the medical setting, and we definitely are well aware of how it can spread and have been taking many precautions."

The most common type of delayed or forgone care was dental care (5.3%), followed by well-child visits (4.0%) and general or specialist visits (3.2%). About 3% of parents said their child had missed out on immunizations. Nearly 6% of parents said their child had missed out on multiple types of care.

One reason dental care is the most commonly skipped type of care is because people might not consider dental care to be as urgent as other types of care, Gonzalez said. However, oral health can affect a person's overall wellness.

Kainth, an infection disease specialist at Cohen Children's Medical Center, New Hyde Park, New York, said the lack of immunization because of COVID-19 can have adverse health effects on children and could possibly lead to outbreaks in schools and day care settings. In the Urban Institute's 2020 survey, 18.5% of parents said putting off their child's healthcare worsened their child's health, and 15.6% said it limited their children's ability to go to school or day care.

"We are already concerned that we will have pockets of [vaccine-preventable] infections that we normally did not see before in communities where they are not vaccinating their children at high enough numbers," Kainth said. "It is a little concerning that there's probably a lot of catch up to be done for particular vaccines that are specifically for those entering day care and school."

The current survey also found that parents with incomes below 250% of the federal poverty level were more likely than those with higher incomes to have put off care for their children in the past 30 days. More than 12% of families living in poverty put off care for their children, compared with 6.5% of those with higher incomes. They were also more likely to delay or forgo multiple types of care, at 8.1% vs 3.3%. Parents with lower family incomes were also more likely to report that their children had unmet needs for dental care, checkups, or other preventive care.

"We know that lower-income parents could be more exposed to costs they might not be able to afford if they were to get sick," Gonzalez said. "Low-income adults have been disproportionately affected by job loss during the pandemic. They are also more likely to live in communities that have faced the largest health impacts of COVID-19."

"There's also advantages to the pediatrician visit that are not just about providing care but also providing guidance and advice to families and parents who are maybe struggling with certain issues that are above and beyond just the medical advice," Kainth explained.

"That is probably the most tragic part of hearing that parents and kids are not going to the well visits, because that's where families get a lot of support. And I think at this time, we probably need that more than ever," she continued.

The authors said the findings highlight the importance of increasing rates of COVID-19 vaccinations among eligible adolescents and encouraging vaccinations for children younger than 12 when they become eligible, not only to protect them from COVID-19 but also to help families feel comfortable obtaining care.

The study was funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The authors and Kainth have disclosed no relevant financial relationships.

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