HARRISBURG -- While COVID-19 led to the postponement of routine and follow-up appointments in the early weeks of the pandemic, the time is right to think about getting medical care back on track, according to Dr. Blaine Eubanks, an internist and pediatrician at SIH Primary Care Harrisburg.
"My biggest fear is we're going to create another crisis from delayed vaccinations and maintenance medical care that's been put off," Eubanks said.
Eubanks provides care for infants, children and adults in his Harrisburg practice. A primary concern involves his youngest and most vulnerable patients -- babies -- who have fallen behind on well-checks and vaccinations.
"I think a lot of our parents are worried about coming back in to the clinic and exposing their children to COVID-19. We've been doing a lot of telemedicine, but one of the things we haven't been able to do is give shots through a computer," Eubanks said. "People have been holding things off and that's unfortunate. Many vaccine-preventable illnesses seem very foreign, far away and not serious, but they really are."
Eubanks' concerns are echoed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which cited a significant decline in childhood immunizations since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and fears of the re-emergence of vaccine-preventable diseases such as measles and pertussis (whooping cough). As social distancing requirements are relaxed, children who are not protected by vaccines will be more vulnerable.
"I have a special place in my heart for newborns and infants. Babies don't have immunity to a lot of things. They can't protect themselves and they can't wear a mask. When they get sick, it is such a big deal because it is so hard on their little bodies. I'm also concerned about my community. I don't want us to have a rise in another set of viruses or preventable illnesses because we missed out on something," he said.
The pneumonia vaccine is also of particular importance, said the doctor.
"Many people who get the COVID-19 virus go on to get pneumonia. So that's definitely a focus of mine," Eubanks said.
Eubanks reassures worried parents by sharing the number of safety protocols in place at the clinic when they return. Among them: separate entrances for employees and patients, illness screenings by phone prior to appointments and additional screenings and temperature checks upon entry. All physicians, nurses, staff and fellow patients will be masked and exam rooms are disinfected between patient.
SIH Primary Care Harrisburg is one of 30 SIH outpatient and specialty clinics across the region. For more on ways SIH is keeping patients and their families safe, visit sih.net.