112: Messaging COVID Vaccines to New Parents

Dr. Jose Romero, a pediatrician and Arkansas’ Secretary of Health, says there’s work to be done to prepare for the possibility of a vaccine for infants and toddlers; Dr. Josh Sharfstein, a pediatrician and former health officer in Maryland who...


Dr. José Romero, a pediatrician and Arkansas’ Secretary of Health, says there’s work to be done to prepare for the possibility of a vaccine for infants and toddlers; Dr. Josh Sharfstein, a pediatrician and former health officer in Maryland who teaches health policy at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, says parents of preschoolers are the most familiar with the benefits of vaccines and tells us why that’s important; and ASTHO announces May 10–11 as the dates for this year’s virtual public health Tech Xpo event.

CNN Health: Pfizer and BioNTech seeking emergency use authorization from FDA for COVID-19 vaccine for children younger than 5

ASTHO TechXpo Team email: techxpo@astho.org

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Transcript

ROBERT JOHNSON:

This is Public Health Review Morning Edition for Friday, February 4th, 2022. I'm Robert Johnson.

Now, today's news from the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials.

 

The FDA is set to consider on February 15th a request by Pfizer for emergency approval of its COVID-19 vaccine for children younger than five years of age. Pediatrician and Arkansas secretary of health, Dr. José Romero, says there's work to be done to prepare for the possibility of a vaccine for infants and toddlers.

DR. JOSÉ ROMERO:

I think we need to think about our messaging. That's one of the things that we're dealing with here—messaging for the public, and being to talk about the vaccine, and why do we need to vaccinate children in particular.

JOHNSON:

He says a discussion about vaccine safety and the dangers of going unprotected might help convince new parents to vaccinate their kids.

ROMERO:

I think it's important to stress to parents that this is not just the flu, right, this is not just the cold. That, in particular, the Omicron variant is highly transmissible.; ad then, some of those infants are going to wind up in the hospital.

JOHNSON:

And Dr. Romero reminds us getting ready for another vaccine rollout is about more than just messaging.

ROMERO:

I think other things to think about are how you're going to move this vaccine out into the community. We're also thinking about other sites. So, for example, for the 5–11 year old group and the adolescent group, we've had—for lack of a better term—strike teams go out into the schools and, we'll administer the vaccine there.

Now, if your schools already have immunization programs, it's a good way to begin to start to talk about that. But, for example, for us we're considering looking at childcare centers and going into them, both school-based and private-based, and delivering vaccine at those sites if there is a desire to do something.

 

JOHNSON:

Dr. Josh Sharfstein is a pediatrician and former health officer in Maryland. Today, he teaches health policy at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. He says parents of preschoolers are the most familiar with the benefits of vaccines and tells us why that's important in today's morning conversation.

What's the secret to getting parents to go do this? Is there anything different that we have to be thinking about with this age group and the parents in particular?

DR. JOSH SHARFSTEIN:

Well, this is the age group where we have a lot of vaccinations anyway. There's an entire infrastructure built to deliver vaccinations to young children, and I think it's just going to be really important to work with that infrastructure.

Obviously, the data has to be there, has to be well explained. Pediatricians have to really understand the value and parents, and then it should be brought into routine vaccination. And so, it sort of rides on the train tracks that exists already, and the U.S. has very high vaccination rates for young children.

So, I think that if the science is there—and we haven't seen the science yet, but if the science is there—the infrastructure will be there in a way that maybe it wasn't for older adults.

JOHNSON:

So, do you think—compared to other vaccination efforts that have gone on here in the last year or so with COVID—that this effort for this segment might be easier?

SHARFSTEIN:

It might be. It really depends on, again, what the science is, how well it's explained, how well pediatricians are engaged, and ultimately the conversations that those pediatricians and other pediatric healthcare providers have with families and parents. And, you know, that system does exist.

We've really been hurt by not having a system of delivering vaccines, really, to older adults. Even school-age children struggled to get vaccines in this country. But young children can get them; and so, it really gives us a chance, I think, for a better uptake if the science and the communications are there.

JOHNSON:

Communication has been one of those things that everyone has struggled with: getting on the same page, getting out soon enough. What would you suggest to those who are trying to do their best to get all of this done as it relates to thinking about this youngest audience?

SHARFSTEIN:

Well, I think that typically the regulators will start talking at the very end of the process when a vaccine is authorized or approved. But I think it's important for the public health officials to be talking about what's going on now; I was disappointed to see that all this news about vaccine for kids under five is being broken by companies or unnamed sources instead of public health officials who are really responsible for this.

And I think the FDA has to get over its hang ups about transparency and be out there really talking about what the data is and really guiding the pediatric world and parents through what is going to be coming so that it's not a big surprise at the end.

 

JOHNSON:

Finally today, relentless and frequent snow storms in much of the U.S. have all of us longing for warmer weather; but ASTHO's second annual Tech Xpo is another reason to look forward to springtime. The virtual expo is set for May 10th and 11th. Like last year's gathering, it'll be your chance to learn about the latest technology solutions to support the public health mission.

If you want more information or want to sponsor the event, email the Tech Xpo team—the address is in the show notes.

 

That'll do it for today's report.

Be sure to join us again Monday morning for more ASTHO news and information.

I'm Robert Johnson. You're listening to Public Health Review Morning Edition. Have a great weekend.

Jose Romero MD

Secretary of Health, Arkansas Department of Health

Joshua Sharfstein MD

Vice Dean for Public Health Practice and Community Engagement, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health