Suspicious parents are the target of new calls to vaccinate children aged 5 to 11

For weeks the school principal had implored Kemika Cosey: Would she please allow her children, 7 and 11, to be vaccinated against Covid?...


For weeks the school principal had implored Kemika Cosey: Would she please allow her children, 7 and 11, to be vaccinated against Covid?

Ms. Cosey remained firm. A hard no.

But Mr. Kip – Brigham Kiplinger, the director of Garrison Primary School in Washington, DC – brushed off the “noes”.

Since the federal government authorized the coronavirus vaccine for children ages 5 to 11 nearly three months ago, Mr. Kip has been calling school parents, texting, harassing, cajoling every day. Acting as a vaccine advocate — a job typically done by medical professionals and public health officials — has become central to his role as an educator. “The vaccine is the most important thing happening this year to keep kids in school,” Kiplinger said.

Thanks in large part to Mr. Kiplinger’s skills as a parent-vax whisperer, Garrison Elementary has become a public health anomaly: 80% of the 250 Garrison Wildcats in kindergarten through fifth grade now have at least one vaccine, a- he declared.

But as the Omicron variant took America’s classrooms by stormsending students home and, in some cases, to the hospital, the overall vaccination rate for the 28 million American children between the ages of 5 and 11 remains even lower than feared by health experts. According to a new Kaiser Family Foundation analysis based on federal data, only 18.8% are now fully vaccinated and only 28.1% have received a dose.

The disparity in rates between states is glaring. In Vermont, the proportion of fully immunized children is 52%; in Mississippi, it is 6%.

“It’s going to be a long job at this point to get the kids vaccinated,” said Jennifer Kates, senior vice president at Kaiser, specializing in global health policy. She says it will take unwavering perseverance like that of Mr. Kiplinger, whom she knows firsthand because her child attends her school. “It’s hard, hard to reach the parents.”

After the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was authorized for young children in late October, the surge in demand lasted only a few weeks. It peaked just before Thanksgiving, then dropped precipitously and has since stalled. It now fluctuates between 50,000 and 75,000 new doses per day.

“I was surprised how quickly interest in the vaccine for children waned,” Dr Kates said. “Even parents who had been vaccinated themselves were more cautious about vaccinating their children.”

Public health officials say persuading parents to vaccinate their young children is essential not only to maintain in-person education, but also to contain the pandemic globally. With adult vaccination reaching a ceiling – 74% of Americans who are 18 and over are now fully vaccinated, and most of those who are not seem increasingly immobile – unvaccinated primary school children remain an important and turbulent source of spread. Traveling to and from school by bus, traversing school hallways, bathrooms, classrooms and gymnasiums, they can unknowingly act as viral vectors countless times a day.

Parents give many reasons for their hesitation. And with their innate protective distrust on behalf of their children, they are susceptible to widespread misinformation. For many working parents, the hurdle is more logistical than philosophical, as they struggle to find the time to take their children to the clinic, doctor’s office, or pharmacy for a shot.

In some communities where adult opposition to vaccines is strong, local health departments and schools do not vigorously promote vaccines for children for fear of backlash. Pharmacies may not even bother to stock children’s doses.

Despite the proliferation of overcrowded Covid hospitals, sick children and the highly contagious aspect of Omicron, many parents, still swayed by last year’s surges which were generally not so brutal for children than adults, do not believe the virus is dangerous enough to warrant risking their child’s health on a new vaccine.

Health communication experts also attribute the view to confusing early messaging around Omicron, which was initially described as “mild” but also a variant that could pierce vaccine protection.

Many parents interpreted these messages to mean that the gunshots were useless. In fact, vaccines have been shown to strongly protect against serious illness and death, although they are not as effective at preventing infections with Omicron as with other variants.

And the number of cases of children who have been diagnosed with Covid is only increasing, as a report last week of the American Academy of Pediatrics points out. Dr Moira Szilagyi, president of the academy, pushed for higher vaccination rates, saying: “After nearly two years of this pandemic, we know that this disease has not always been mild in children, and we have seen some children suffer from serious illness. , both short-term and long-term.

Recognizing the urgency, supporters Covid shots step up efforts to convince parents. The American Academy of Pediatrics has compiled talking points for pediatricians and parents. Kaiser has its own parent-friendly vaccine-information site. Patsy Stinchfield, a nurse practitioner who is the new president of National Infectious Disease Foundationholds an extensive lecture program, answering questions about the Covid vaccine from parents, teenagers, pediatricians and radio show hosts.

The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health has just released a free online training course to help give pro-vaccine parents a language and means to approach their resistant friends. It provides vaccine facts, resources and techniques to get them involved.

One trick is to share personal stories about Covid, to ground the vaccine’s purpose in real-world experience. Another is to normalize Covid vaccination by proudly notifying friends and family when children receive Covid vaccines.

Rupali Limaye, a Bloomberg-associated scientist who studies vaccine messaging and developed the course, said giving parents tools to persuade others about Covid shots could improve adoption rates, especially now that some hesitant parents reject the advice of paediatricians. Peer “vaccine ambassadors,” as she calls them, have more time and wield less power than hassled doctors. “It’s a super sensitive topic for a lot of people,” added Dr Limaye.

Since November, Mr. Kiplinger, who served as Garrison’s manager for five years, has been working on a daily parent call list. He says he understands their apprehension because he went through the same mental gymnastics before deciding to have his two young sons vaccinated.

He nags in every way he can: At lunchtime, he asks students to raise their hands if they’ve had their Covid shots, applauds them and urges others to keep pushing their parents.

“I’m a real pain in the ass,” he admitted. “I harass them with love.”

Covid has been particularly brutal for black and Hispanic families, whose children make up about 80% of the school’s population. Mr. Kiplinger understands that as a white man he has limited power to ask these parents to trust vaccines and has therefore argued with black pediatricians to provide medical information as well as endorsements.

“Given the history of understandable medical distrust in communities of color, hesitation is natural and understandable,” he said. “But to keep our Wildcats safe and in school, we need to overcome the natural fear of the new and the unknown and take whatever action we can.”

Many parents told her they couldn’t take time off from work to take their children for vaccinations. So Mr. Kiplinger coordinated with a city program to hold Covid vaccination clinics in the school cafeteria during caregiver-friendly hours from 3:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. He attends each one, greeting the families, holding and hugging the children as they close their eyes and stretch out their arms.

Ms Cosey, Garrison’s mother who had staunchly resisted Mr Kiplinger’s pleas for weeks, feared the vaccine could exacerbate her son’s many allergies. “It took me a little minute to do a lot more research,” she said.

Earlier this month, she took the two children to a school clinic. Yes, her pediatrician had encouraged her, but she also gives Mr. Kiplinger credit. She laughed. His fifth-grade student has been at Garrison since kindergarten: “Mr. Kip is more like family, so when I say he was bullying, he’s a good nag!

She said that at the school clinic, “Mr. Kip took a million pictures!” He was just super excited that I decided to come in.

Mr. Kiplinger is determined to convert the remaining vaccines at Garrison. At the last vaccination clinic, he stood there while a mother argued on the phone with her husband. “The mother and her four Wildcats wanted the vaccines, but for the father, it was a ‘no’. It broke my heart,” he said.

“But we have another clinic coming up,” he added, “and hopefully he might come back.”

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Newsrust - US Top News: Suspicious parents are the target of new calls to vaccinate children aged 5 to 11
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