How to Get Pediatric Immunizations Back on Track

Some parents are still hesitant about vaccinating their children.

Although the Department of Health and Human Services authorized all licensed pharmacists to administer vaccines to children 3 ages through 18 in 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, many parents are still hesitant about their kids getting vaccines or are behind on non-COVID-19 vaccinations for their children.

The pandemic created a huge void in vaccinations for children, said Kim McKeirnan, PharmD, BCACP, associate professor at Washington State University, at the APhA 2022 Annual Meeting & Exposition in San Antonio, Texas.

“If have 4 children, and the pediatrician’s office I go to was closed, that would create a great opportunity to miss vaccines,” McKeirnan said. “Pharmacies are a great place for them to catch up.”

While the American Academy of Pediatrics expressed concern about pharmacists immunizing children at the beginning of the pandemic because it would take away from well-child visits, McKeirnan said she has “no interest” in doing that.

“We know that [some patients] are not getting into the physician’s office every time they are supposed to, so we want to fill in the gaps,” McKeirnan noted. “It's about keeping the kids on track.”

During the pandemic, many parents expressed concerns about themselves or their children getting vaccines for COVID-19 and for other diseases, McKeirnan said. She shared an example of 1 patient who was trying to get pregnant who did not want to get the COVID-19 vaccine because she believed it would cause infertility. People also worry that their children shouldn’t get the HPV vaccine because it will make them sexually active.

Others believe that herd immunity will do away with COVID-19. “We are all getting to a point where we hope to rely on herd immunity. But with new variants coming out, we can’t rely on that,” McKeirnan explained.

Some patients also doubt the reliability of vaccine information. “There is really good information out there from the CDC, but how do you [share] that when you have someone who thinks the CDC is made up or doesn’t believe in the things they have to say?”

In addition, some parents believe that some of the diseases that vaccines prevent, such as chicken pox, aren’t very serious. “A lot of healthy children may not get that sick [with chicken pox], but do you really want to risk them being the rare case?” McKeirnan asks patients.

Some tips that McKeirnan provided for pharmacists to help concerned parents get their kids back on track are outlined below.

  • A strong recommendation from a trusted health care provider can make a difference. “If you say, ‘I really think this would be a great vaccination for you and your family,’ they hear it not just on the news but from a trusted pharmacist. Plant the seed. Even if they don’t get vaccinated with you today, hopefully they will do that in the future,” McKeirnan said.
  • Take time to listen to patients’ concerns. Acknowledge that you hear what the person is saying, and that you are really listening to them, McKeirnan advised. “I have more power to combat if I hear their concerns. Validate their concerns. People just want to do the best thing for their child,” she said.
  • Describe the science and what is known about the particular vaccination. Explain that vaccines are very important to ensuring people stay healthy and prevent diseases.
  • Use a “heart-head” approach, sharing an emotional or personal story about, for instance, someone you knew who was young and got a bad case of chicken pox, McKeirnan advised.

In the case of pediatric patients who haven’t had their well visit, encourage parents to visit a pediatrician, McKeirnan said. Find providers who are taking new patients so you can refer them to specific practices, she added.

Reference

McKeirnan K. Keep ‘em up to date: Immunization schedule catch up. Presented at: American Pharmacists Association 2022 Annual Meeting & Exposition; March 18-21, 2022; San Antonio, TX