Parents in elementary school, like their children, tend to have a short attention span. It is a self-defense mechanism. But since the federal government gave the green light to children aged 12 to 17 to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, we have kept our focus on when the next age group, the 5 to 11 year-olds, turns up. would vaccinate.
That moment has finally arrived. Now is the time for political leaders and school administrators to plan how best to capitalize on these developments.
Vaccinating as many children aged 5 to 11 as quickly as possible by providing convenient, fair and reliable vaccination sites will be crucial to limit the spread in schools and communities, especially as winter approaches. , flu season and winter vacation.
Children have lost so much during the pandemic, and as parents we have had two years of stress over the way they learn and play. We owe it to them to help them get vaccinated as soon as possible in order to get back to their childhood.
As parents, school leaders and public health professionals, we offer a four point plan that any jurisdiction can implement as long as the political will can be applied.
First, clinics should be established in all jurisdictions to facilitate equitable and convenient access to vaccines for children, using federal resources made available by the White House. Pediatric surgeries and children’s hospitals are already short of staffing challenges, flock respiratory viruses, catch up previously delayed well visits and PCR testing. Clinic delivery provides options for uninsured, underinsured, undocumented and other vulnerable populations whose services would be covered by federal money.
In addition, the capacity for pediatric appointments varies greatly. Healthcare providers cannot be expected to adapt to the sudden explosion of appointments that will be required to immunize children as quickly as possible.
Then develop a centralized supply of resources that community groups can use to plan their own clinics. Public and public charter schools offer an excellent partner here. Many families know and trust their school community and are motivated to make their schools safer by immunizing their children; many school administrators have expressed an interest in organizing immunization events.
We can also use the sense of community that exists within schools to encourage and educate families on the importance of immunization. School-based vaccinations also increase equitable access to vaccines, as many families are unable to take time off work to bring children to the doctor’s office. The convenience of a Saturday vaccination clinic or pick-up vaccination clinic at your child’s elementary school – hosted by people you know and trust – would expand access shortly before the start of the winter respiratory virus season.
Then, encourage large drugstore chains and local pharmacies to offer vaccines to children aged 5 to 11 in fair locations and at convenient times. As part of the COVID-19 public health emergency, pharmacists can vaccinate young children and this is being encouraged by the White House as part of its plan to immunize children.
Finally, be prepared to listen and respond with compassion, empathy and patience to families who express reluctance to immunize their children. Many families have serious and legitimate questions about vaccines. Education and awareness of families will be a crucial step in transmitting scientific information to families. It will be a conversation-by-conversation effort that must take place within trusted communities where community leaders are part of the dialogue. Each jurisdiction should strive to develop clear communications that help answer these questions for families and work with local school communities and other community leaders to help facilitate these conversations.
These recommendations are consistent with the Biden administration plan described Oct. 20, which highlighted a range of settings for vaccinations, including schools and community clinics. And, as stated, cost shouldn’t be an issue given the federal government’s commitments.
From conversations in our various communities, we know that there is a high demand for vaccines for children aged 5 to 11 in anticipation of upcoming FDA and CDC approvals. However, there are also several challenges to achieving high immunization rates in children across the country. Awareness will be needed to communicate the benefits and safety of the vaccine, address the challenge of vaccine reluctance, and prioritize distribution that is equitable, convenient and trusted by parents. Logistics will be necessary to help put the blows in the arms.
Now is the time to take a âuse all available settingsâ approach far beyond conventional healthcare settings. Every city, town and county needs to invest in a multi-pronged, community-centered effort to make it easier to get children immunized as quickly as possible. We owe it to them.
Elizabeth A. Stuart, Ph.D., is Bloomberg Professor of American Health and Associate Dean of Education at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Twitter: @lizstuartdc. Ashley Darcy-Mahoney, Ph.D., PI, is an associate professor and neonatal nurse practitioner at the George Washington University School of Nursing. Twitter: @adarcymahoney. Natalie Exum, Ph.D., MS, is an Environmental Health Scientist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Sarah E. Raskin, Ph.D., MPH, is Assistant Professor in the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs at Virginia Commonwealth University.