President Joe Biden released a new strategy on Thursday on how to combat the spread of the coronavirus during the winter season, an announcement that comes at a critical time as the omicron variant spreads across the world and the first case has been confirmed in the United States.
In response to the unknowns of the new SARS-CoV-2 variant, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that all adults should receive a COVID-19 booster if it has been at least six months since they were received an mRNA vaccine at two or more doses. more than two months since getting the single-shot vaccine from Johnson & Johnson. No matter how transmissible or evasive the omicron variant proves to be, our best defense right now is a fully vaccinated public.
All Americans should be concerned about unvaccinated people in this country and around the world. Among the eligible age groups with the lowest vaccination rates are children ages 5 to 17, with logistical issues slowing deployments. Biden’s strategy includes a new effort to launch family immunization clinics across the country, and swift implementation of that will be key.
Following clearance in early November for children aged 5 to 11, a massive national mobilization intensified, the largest since eligibility was widened to ages 12 to 15 in May. Special orange-capped pediatric vials have been shipped to hospitals, pharmacies and pediatricians’ offices across the country, and childhood vaccines are now available at more than 22,000 sites. More than 4 million children — nearly 14.2% of that age group — received their first dose, according to CDC data.
Despite a plentiful supply of vaccines, only a small portion of the younger age group was vaccinated in the first weeks of deployment and at a slower rate than 12-15 year olds. Parental confidence in vaccines remains low: According to a recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll, only 27% said they would vaccinate a child aged 5-11 immediately, and 30% said they would not. ” certainly not “. While some schools require vaccinations for children over 12, many do not have similar policies in place for ages 5 to 11, affecting overall vaccination rates. Many underestimate the risk to children and cite concerns about the alleged long-term effects of vaccines or that they cause infertility, two myths long debunked.
We can also get clues about uptake by looking at the other age group of kids – teens 12-17. Nationally, 62% of this group received at least one dose, with 52% fully vaccinated. Examining the data, we find that one of the biggest predictors of adolescent vaccination is parental and guardian vaccination rates, drawing attention to the divisions among American families. With the announcement of the omicron variant, it is essential to protect as many eligible Americans as possible. We must do this by making immunization a family affair.
First, we need to increase access to vaccines for children and adolescents. Our Vaccine Equity Planner shows that the number of sites offering the vaccine for children ages 5-11 is approximately 40% of all sites in the country. For comparison, nearly 69% of all sites offer the adult dose of the Pfizer vaccine. Vaccine deserts, ever present throughout the rollout, were exacerbated for younger populations, with fewer vaccinators willing to support children and their parents or guardians through the process.
In some rural counties in Tennessee, for example, childhood immunization rates remain in the single digits as parents may need to drive longer distances due to a lack of nearby providers. Research shows a marked rural-urban divide: 54% of urban children aged 12 to 17 are vaccinated compared to 35% of rural children. Increasing partnerships with community organizations and accelerating reimbursements for pediatricians promoting immunization education and confidence can help us close this gap.
Second, we need to streamline the dating process, making it easier for all generations to book appointments. Many sites offer a multitude of types of vaccines, boosters and pediatric doses, as well as flu shots. Families should be able to easily schedule multiple appointments and get themselves and their children vaccinated in one visit. Biden’s plan includes a call for federal pharmaceutical partners to implement family-based planning in the coming months. This should happen immediately. Offering adult vaccines in pediatricians’ offices helps the whole family.
Third, as families come together this holiday season, we must promote immunization. The data is clear: Messaging around vaccinations protects loved ones. Additionally, we support families’ ongoing efforts to reduce transmission by rolling out rapid testing, evidence-based masking, and improving ventilation where possible. We know that the most trusted messengers are within our own communities – friends or family talking about the benefits of vaccines can influence some reluctant people to opt for vaccination.
Fourth, we must do all we can to reduce the barriers to vaccinating adults and children. While enforcement of OSHA’s temporary emergency standard is currently on hold due to litigation, we join the President’s call for employers to continue providing paid time off for callbacks employees and consider making accommodations for parents and guardians who require time off. We believe that employers should implement family vaccination days. Additionally, resources and personnel should be directed to community organizations with a proven track record of serving underserved communities. In December, the vaccine should be offered at community block parties, schools, construction sites and agricultural fields.
Cases in children are up 16% over the past week and 32% over the past two weeks, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. With 95% of the US population now eligible for vaccination, the time has come to refocus on vaccinating all generations. The omicron variant arrived in the United States before the holidays, and to protect the public from it – and future variants – our shield is population immunity.
Vaccinating all families is our fastest way.
Rebecca Weintraub, MD, is an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School and associate physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and directs Better Evidence at Ariadne Labs. Benjy Renton is an analyst at Ariadne Labs. John Brownstein, Ph.D., is director of innovation at Boston Children’s Hospital and professor at Harvard Medical School.