Childhood vaccinations took a downturn during the pandemic. Now is the time to get them done and pharmacists can help.
Studies show that vaccinations among children are going down—especially since the COVID-19 vaccination was added to the mix. However, it’s important for parents to vaccinate their children and a pharmacist can play a key role in getting these numbers to increase.
Obviously, vaccine hesitancy isn’t new, but it’s a movement that is steadily gaining traction.
Rebekah Diamond, MD, assistant professor of Pediatrics at Columbia University and author of “Parent Like a Pediatrician,” noted parents are facing unprecedented challenges in finding good information about vaccines and disinformation only increased dramatically during the COVID-19 pandemic, making the challenge even harder.
“There are many other contributing factors, and it all has led to declining vaccination rates,” she said. “The problem is huge and is a main reason that rates of serious infections including COVID-19 and flu are up in children.”
Patricia Pinto-Garcia, MD, MPH, a pediatrician with more than a decade of experience in academic medicine, noted it’s natural to feel uncertain and hesitant about any new technology, including vaccines. However, it’s also hard for parents to process the overwhelming amount of information circulating.
“There’s so much medical information available right now which isn’t always vetted and contains misinformation,” she said. “For parents, it’s important to have trusted resources to turn to for accurate information. Pediatricians, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American Academy of Pediatrics are trusted sources of information when it comes to vaccinations.”
The best thing a parent can do is to make sure their child is up-to-date with routine checkups. A child’s primary provider or pediatrician always reviews whether a child is up to date on vaccines during a routine check-up.
“However, if you can’t make it to a checkup or if your child’s primary care provider doesn’t offer all vaccinations, there are other resources that can help,” Pinto-Garcia added. “School-based health clinics, local and chain pharmacies, and local departments of public health offer vaccinations, some at no cost.”
Parents can also use the CDC’s vaccine schedule infographic for a quick review of which vaccines children need at certain ages. After all, it’s helpful for parents to keep copies of their children’s vaccines. This gives parents peace of mind that their children have the appropriate levels of vaccination for school enrollment, sports teams, and higher education.
Although most providers will have these records, they can sometimes be tricky to track down as health systems are not always well connected to one another and technology is constantly evolving.
For many people, pharmacies provide a convenient location to receive some of the common, seasonal vaccines.
“If parents are unable to get to a doctor’s office, it might be worth calling their local pharmacy to see if they administer the vaccine needed and if they can see a patient sooner,” Pinto-Garcia said. “Many pediatricians were unable to keep COVID-19 vaccines in their office due to cost and storage requirements. This created a huge barrier to access for many children. Pharmacists were able to fill in these gaps because chain pharmacies have the resources to store and deliver vaccines in large quantities.”
Plus, many pharmacies are open 7 days a week and have much longer hours because of their larger staff size. This makes it easier for parents to get an appointment time that works for their families’ schedule.
“During the COVID-19 pandemic, pharmacists played a huge role in making sure that vaccines got to people who needed them,” Pinto-Garcia stated. “It’s clear the system works and hopefully in the future, new legislation will allow pharmacists to play a larger role in childhood vaccination.”
However, it’s not just COVID-19 vaccinations of course. Children should be receiving a number of vaccinations to protect against diseases such as pneumonia, meningitis, chickenpox, measles, mumps, polio and tetanus. The CDC recommends that children receive vaccinations against 16 diseases.
“Although we are all susceptible to infectious diseases, there are a handful of diseases that children are particularly vulnerable to such as chickenpox or measles, which is why staying up to date on vaccinations is important,” Pinto-Garcia said. “These diseases may seem less commonplace today because many children are vaccinated against them. But outbreaks do happen and are happening more frequently as vaccine rates go down.”
Right now, pharmacists are limited by state and federal laws in terms of which vaccines they can give to children. However, health care providers and pharmacists can work together to make the most of the current situation.
“Health care providers can offer parents a list of nearby pharmacies that are able to vaccinate children and which vaccines they offer,” Pinto-Garcia said. “Parents can also help get this information out to friends and neighbors. Getting a child vaccinated at a local chain pharmacy is new for many parents. Some are apprehensive about the experience. Hearing that another family has a smooth and child-friendly experience can alleviate anxiety.”
Diamond agreed that pharmacist working with local pediatric providers to see how to improve access is a great idea.
“Pharmacists can also ask questions about different vaccines seek resources in learning how to provide accurate information and counsel parents,” she said. “Pharmacists often give vaccines, especially flu and COVID-19, to kids. It’s important for pharmacists to have a full knowledge of the benefits of the vaccine, and be prepared to answer nuanced questions such as how many vaccines to give at once, timing and intervals, explaining safety and efficacy accurately.”