"As COVID-19 spread across the region, Vanessa Perez worried that her 16-month-old daughter would not receive important vaccines on time.
The last time the Lowell resident and her daughter, Jeyla Aponte, had visited the Lowell Community Health Center was shortly after Aponte turned a year old in February. Then, amid the pandemic, the health center shifted most visits to telehealth, and stopped administering pediatric vaccines.
Aponte needed her 15-month vaccines and blood work, Perez said. So when the LCHC called to schedule an appointment, Perez was relieved.
On May 11, the LCHC began a vaccine clinic for children under 12 months old. And about two weeks ago, the clinic expanded to include children under four years old. In total, the clinic has given 1,819 vaccines.
'I'm actually still worried now, because I have three other children,' who are 13, 11 and 7 years old, Perez added.
Lowell CHC plans to serve more age groups in the coming month, according to Deborah Bell-Polson, associate director of nursing for pediatrics, obstetrics and school-based health centers. While some patients' immunization schedules may have been delayed, Bell-Polson is confident the Lowell CHC can get children back on track within a month or two.
'Vaccines are certainly one of the things that we wanted to make sure that we continued to have available for our children,' she said. 'We don't want - on top of a pandemic - to have preventable diseases, you know, coming back into the area.'
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the proportion of all children in the country who were up-to-date on vaccines at five months old decreased from about 2/3 throughout 2016-2019, to fewer than half in May 2020.
There are many vaccines to fit into a child's first two years of life, from measles, mumps and rubella to Hepatitis B. In an average month, Lowell CHC administers between 2,500 and 4,000 vaccines. The pediatric clinic neared 2,000 last month, even with a much smaller patient base.
'We've given an incredible amount of vaccines,' said Cynthia Slaga, a nurse practitioner in pediatrics and adolescent health.
'Parents and families have been very responsive with regards to, you know, making it their priority to bring their children in (and) keep them up to date with their vaccines,' she said."