The data and committee conclusions are important not just for health care providers but also for families, given that in April 2022, over half of parents with children under age 5 surveyed reported they did not have enough information about the safety and effectiveness of Covid vaccines for those youngsters. Also reassuring is that these vaccines will be continuously monitored in the months ahead to ensure that they deliver the benefits indicated by the trials even as the pandemic evolves.
But we cannot expect vaccinating young children to rise to the top of caregivers’ to-do lists if the benefits are not communicated clearly or if getting vaccines is onerous. We need clear, accessible communication from pediatric providers and public health practitioners about the urgency of vaccinating children, and we need to eliminate as many impediments to vaccination as possible. Critically, we need an equity-centered approach that smooths every step of the process, from accessing information to appointment scheduling to enabling caregivers who work for pay to take time off work to get their children vaccinated.
For decades, prudent policies have successfully sustained vaccine uptake among children and aided in keeping communities safe by preventing outbreaks. For instance, nearly every state requires children to be vaccinated against at least four of eight diseases (measles, mumps, rubella, polio, varicella, diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis) to attend school, and this has helped keep rates of these routine vaccinations high across racial, ethnic and economic groups. With a supportive structure, Covid-19 vaccination can also be accessible, convenient and an expected milestone in childhood, across diverse communities — no different from any other childhood vaccine.
The summer school break is the perfect opportunity for caregivers and local, state and national leaders and the public health community to work together to ensure that children are vaccinated before the school year begins. If we have learned anything since 2020, it is that while the virus’s next move is uncertain, our decisions, our policies and our actions can save lives and avert harm.
Nicole E. Basta is an associate professor of epidemiology at McGill University and its Canada research chair in infectious disease prevention. Rachel Widome is an associate professor at the University of Minnesota’s School of Public Health.
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