Vaccinations and COVID-19: What parents need to know

How to safely get routine vaccinations for your child during the COVID-19 pandemic.

By UNICEF
A baby is being weighted and vaccinated in the health center of Gonzagueville, a suburb of Abidjan, in the South of Côte d'Ivoire.
UNICEF/UNI316669/Frank Dejongh
23 April 2020

The outbreak of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) has brought with it fear and uncertainty. Many parents are asking about when there will be a COVID-19 vaccine and what to do about routine childhood vaccinations during the pandemic. We're here to provide answers to your most common questions.

When will the vaccine for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) be available?

As of now [23 April], there are no specific vaccines or treatments for COVID-19. Scientists around the world are working hard to develop a vaccine against the disease. In fact, many different vaccines are being developed simultaneously, with two of them at the front of the process. Innovative approaches to vaccine development are being used, based partially in what was learn from the responses to Ebola and SARS. If successful, this will be fastest vaccine development and validation process in history.

Researchers are also looking for drugs to slow down how the virus spreads in the body and reduce the serious breathing problems it can cause in ill patients. But even with the fastest methods, the use of drugs in humans for a new disease needs to be tested to ensure safety and efficacy.

>>See how to wash your hands and cleaning tips to protect against COVID-19.

Should my child still get routine vaccines during the COVID-19 pandemic?

While COVID-19 is disrupting our daily lives, the short answer is yes, do try to get your child vaccinated where services are available. It is important that children and babies keep their vaccinations up to date because they protect them from serious diseases. It means that when your children can return to interacting with other children, they’ll have protection from some other diseases too.

If you are unsure of whether or not your immunization service is still running as usual, please check with your health care provider. Because the COVID-19 situation is changing every day, you might find your health care providers will be adjusting their way of providing care as things change. If you cannot get to a clinic when your child’s next vaccinations are due, make a note somewhere to try again as soon as the services resume.

What do you think we can learn from this outbreak? What can it teach us about other diseases and the decision to vaccinate?

This outbreak reminds us of how valuable vaccines are. It shows us that when there is a vaccine available for a disease, we should keep our children and ourselves up to date with that vaccination.  Without the protection of vaccines, diseases can spread quickly and with terrible consequences. For example, measles and other diseases remain a constant risk. We are so fortunate to have the protection of vaccines against these diseases.

How do vaccines work?

Vaccines help train our immune system to fight infections by introducing an inactivated form of a germ (bacteria or virus) into the body. Since it is inactivated, it cannot make us sick. However, it triggers our body’s immune system to produce defences called antibodies. Then, if you ever catch the germ, your body’s immune system will already know how to fight it.

>>Watch our mini parenting masterclass on getting your baby’s first vaccines.

Where can I find the latest guidance on vaccinations?

Contact your health care provider, consult your local and national health authority websites and follow guidance provided by WHO and UNICEF.

How can I protect myself and others from COVID-19?

Some of the precautions you and your family can take to help avoid infection include:

  • Washing your hands frequently using soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub.
  • Avoid touching your face, especially your eyes, nose and mouth.
  • If you sneeze or cough, cover mouth and nose with flexed elbow or a tissue. Dispose of used tissue immediately.
  • Avoid crowded places and close contact with people. Keep a safe distance from anyone who has cold or flu-like symptoms.
  • Avoid shaking hands, hugging or kissing people. Avoid sharing food, utensils, cups and towels.
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces that are touched a lot, including phones, doorknobs, light switches, remote controls and countertops.
  • Stay at home if you feel unwell, even with a slight fever and cough.
  • Wear a mask if you are coughing or sneezing or taking care of someone who is suspected to have COVID-19. Healthcare workers should wear medical masks.

I have a newborn to 1-year-old. How can I protect my baby from COVID-19?

In addition to all of the advice already given to parents about hand washing, physical distancing and maintaining hygiene practices, they should take extra care to protect infants from infection. Breastfeed your baby if possible. There is currently no proven research that breastmilk can transmit the virus, but you should take the usual hygiene and respiratory protection (while breastfeeding as well as at other times) to avoid respiratory transmission. Use antibacterial wipes if available to wipe down countertops and diaper-changing surfaces once a day.

Try to ensure young children have the same caregivers to reduce the number of people they come into contact with. Those caregivers should be encouraged to wash their hands regularly, avoid sharing things that go in mouths such as cups and stay away if they feel at all sick.

What should I do if my child is showing symptoms of COVID-19? Is it safe to take her to the doctor?

If your child has a sore throat, a cough or a fever, call your doctor or health service for advice before bringing them in. They may have a special arrangement at the clinic to minimise spread of infection to others. If your child has more serious symptoms, like shortness of breath or seems unusually sick, call the emergency number or take them to the nearest emergency department.

Most children with COVID-19 have mild symptoms or may have no symptoms at all. But it’s important to protect the elderly and others more vulnerable to serious infections. So keep your child at home if you think they have been exposed to COVID-19 or have it, but make sure to call their doctor or a health worker for advice.

As with other respiratory infections like the flu, seek care early if you or your child are having symptoms. Try to avoid going to public places (like a workplace, schools, or public transport), and don’t be in contact with the elderly or immunocompromised family members. If you live with an elderly person as well, it is recommended to separate the generations in the household.

Should I get my child tested for coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19)?

You don’t need to have your child tested if he or she is healthy and not showing any symptoms (such as fever, cough or difficulty breathing). Do also make sure to take all key steps to protect your family against COVID-19.


Coronavirus Q&A

A conversation with Professor Julie Leask, Public Health expert at the University of Sydney.
 

UNICEF