When the Biden government launched a “month of action” this June aimed at vaccinating 70% of the adult population with at least one dose of Covid-19 vaccine by July 4th, US surgeon general Dr. Vivek Murthy suggested that this would not be an easy task.
“Because we had so much success early on, let’s get to the harder part of the campaign,” said Murthy. “We have to keep looking, if you will – convince more people, get the right information, increase access even further.”
With CDC data showing that 64.6% of the adult population are vaccinated with at least one dose and vaccines are available for Americans 12 and older, pediatricians are now working to fill some of the gaps in vaccination coverage.
A month after Sandhills Pediatrics in Southern Pines, North Carolina began offering the Covid-19 vaccine, the practice administered 940 doses of the Pfizer vaccine – 268 were not given to patients but to adults over the age of 23.
Dr. Christoph Diasio, a pediatrician on the practice, said he offered the vaccine to most patients and their family members.
“I’ve seen every reaction from crossed arms that basically jumped away from me; ‘There’s no way I can do this’ to ‘I wanted it – I just couldn’t plan it with work,'” Diasio told CNN.
His practice has also offered other routine vaccinations such as the flu vaccination for relatives of patients for years. He says the practice is fairly common among pediatricians across the country and can offer some protection to babies who are too young to receive the vaccine on their own, like three-week-old James Thomas.
His parents, Amanda and Wayne Thomas, each received their first vaccination of the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine at Sandhills Pediatrics last week. Amanda had a high-risk pregnancy in which both she and Wayne tested positive for Covid-19.
She said her obstetrician recommended getting vaccinated while pregnant.
“Even with that recommendation, it was hard to know what to do with all of the information out there – especially at the time because it was so new,” said Amanda. “I was kind of at the point where I didn’t really want to rock the boat with my pregnancy.”
Protect the weakest
After James was born, Amanda said the decision was easier. “You want to do the best for your baby. Covid is part of our world now, so what’s the best way to protect it from this virus that won’t go away?”
Amanda said she still had a lot of questions. “When and how do we do it?” She asked.
“You don’t want to go to the pharmacy. You don’t want to go to another doctor’s office because you now have a baby that you – even in a non-Covid world – don’t really want to take” on the go, especially to places where possibly sick people live. “
Upon James’ examination, Diasio answered the family’s questions and immediately gave them the vaccine.
Dr. Edith Bracho-Sanchez, a pediatrician and assistant professor of pediatrics at Columbia University, says it’s no surprise that pediatricians are expanding their vaccination efforts beyond their immediate patients. She says it is a natural evolution of their role in the communities they serve. She has seen several families get vaccinated and plan to celebrate together afterwards.
Dr. Lourdes Pereda, a pediatrician in Angier, North Carolina, says she vaccinated adult community members against Covid-19 almost as quickly as pediatric patients.
Her office recently vaccinated Maria Erika Reyes along with her 13-year-old son Kevin when he came for a routine check-up.
Reyes told CNN she was initially not interested in getting the Covid-19 vaccine until Pereda’s office staff spoke to her about the protection he could offer both her and Kevin. Maria speaks mostly Spanish and her 18 year old daughter Brenda helped her translate.
“Now we’re encouraging my dad to get it too, since he’s the one who works outside the home,” said Brenda Reyes.
Pereda’s office, Kidz Pediatrics, caters to many rural and Hispanic families. She says some family members have yet to get vaccinated because they fear it could lead to unwanted attention regarding their immigration status.
When she tells them they can get the vaccine right away in their office, “smile in relief – you have no idea how satisfying that is,” she said. “They have known us for years and we have known their children for years and they really trust us. That helps a lot.”
Bracho-Sanchez says she saw this firsthand too. “When we think of this trust we’ve built it includes families who may be afraid for other reasons – not just fear of the vaccine itself,” she said.
Pereda said she asked her patients to let their friends and neighbors know that the vaccine is available in her office – and they have.
“For the first week or so, I saw patients and their parents. Then I started seeing grandparents and neighbors,” Pereda said. “Then there were people I have never seen in my life and I was happy because that means we are vaccinating more of the community.”
With approximately 44% of the total US population fully vaccinated, efforts to fill the remaining gaps should include “places where families are already going and are already comfortable getting their information,” according to Bracho-Sanchez. such as community organizations. “I was just very lucky to be able to do this in my office,” she said.
Pediatricians across the country say they now have regular conversations about the Covid-19 vaccine with families in their offices, schools and other community facilities. Murthy says these grassroots efforts are helping fuel the nationwide vaccination effort.
“The most powerful and important ambassadors in this effort to protect our countries or patients in our communities are you,” Murthy told pediatricians last week at an American Academy of Pediatrics event.
“Acting locally in communities that you know and trust is extremely important,” he added. “Here we see the real movement.”
Murthy encouraged pediatricians to continue building on the trust they have built in their communities and to take the time to have these one-on-one interviews.
“If we do this together, if we do it in large numbers, then we can reach millions and millions and millions of people,” he said.
According to data released Tuesday by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 61% of people age 12 and older in the United States have received at least one Covid-19 vaccine dose and more than 51% have become complete vaccinated.