With the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) emergency use authorization of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 5 to 11 in late October, children's hospitals across the country began to distribute the vaccine to patients and children in their communities.
For Children's Wisconsin, vaccinating the hospital's staff and contributing to community-wide efforts for adults—and, more recently, kids ages 12 and up—have helped set the stage for a successful rollout for the younger kids.
"We've been involved with the vaccine rollout since last December even though kids weren't approved for the vaccine yet," says Smriti Khare, M.D., president, primary care, Children's Wisconsin in Milwaukee. "We have learned from all of those experiences, and we've gotten to the 5- to 11-group in the best prepared way we could."
Collaboration stresses community involvement
Children's Wisconsin is among a coalition of more than 100 children's hospitals participating in the Children's Hospitals' COVID Vaccination for Kids Initiative. Children's Hospital Association, in partnership with the Biden administration, is organizing the initiative to elevate the trusted voices and efforts of children's hospitals and health systems in their communities to vaccinate 5- to 11-year-olds against COVID-19.
Key to the campaign's success, according to Khare, is engaging entire communities around the effort. To that end, Children's Wisconsin—in partnership with the Milwaukee health department and the city's public and private school systems—is augmenting its own vaccination efforts with more than 20 clinics at area schools.
While the current focus is 5- to 11-year-olds, the mass vaccination clinics are open to anyone on a walk-in or appointment basis—Khare says the hospital's vaccination clinic logged more than 5,000 appointments within days of the online scheduling system's opening. To streamline appointments, Children's Wisconsin has set up a texting system for patients and their families.
"It's a public health disease; it can't be a single family or group of folks mitigating the impact of the pandemic," Khare says. "It is important the community pulls together to make the difference."
Providing families a trusted source of information
Beyond facilitating convenient opportunities for children to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, an important aspect of the initiative is leveraging the trust children's hospitals have established in their communities to educate and inform the public around the safety and benefits of the vaccine.
While many families signed up for the vaccine as soon as it was available, others scheduled appointments with their pediatricians to discuss it first, according to Khare. She says the open, honest dialogues have gone a long way in sowing acceptance of the vaccine.
"We are part of helping families raise their kids, so we want to have conversations with patients and their families to walk through some of their concerns and share the information we have," Khare says.
"And then, being humble enough to say, ‘this has been a new illness, and we're learning more and more every day about this particular virus and how it's impacting children,' so we have more knowledge we can share with the kids and their families to make them feel more comfortable about the vaccine."