As the childhood vaccines roll out, some pediatricians are overwhelmed and understaffed, but all are eager to help.
dr. Silvia Operti of Kidz1st Pediatrics in Rochester Hills is delighted that the vaccine is now available for children as young as 5 years old.
“As a pediatrician, I think my most important job is to help our families raise happy and healthy children, I always say. There’s nothing the medical community can do that comes close to what the vaccine will do for our children and families,” Operti said. “It’s going to make a world of difference – it’s going to make a difference between a child who isn’t or is slightly sick or ends up in hospital with very acute short-term consequences and long-term consequences that we still don’t have.” don’t know what those are.”
She’s had patients so sick that they end up in hospital, so she’s happy to be running a children’s clinic on Saturday, November 13, with 300 doses available. Go to Kidz1st.com to sign up.
“(COVID) is a very different animal. There is nothing in the examination and the physical and the history that will tell us whether this child will be someone who will do well or someone who will become very sick. All our training and knowledge for this is out the window,” Operati said.
The pediatrician said that she had completed her training at the Children’s Hospital in 1994. A lot has changed since then with new medical treatments, new diagnoses and new tests.
“But what remained constant was that when we walked into the room and examined a child and asked the parent what the history was, we could determine the prognosis and tell the parents how to help their child and what to expect,” said Operti. “Then a year and a half ago, COVID came and made that constant go away. COVID is something that presents itself as everything and as nothing.”
Before the emergency authorization for children was granted, Operati worked hard to convince parents to get vaccinated. She made the vaccine mandatory for her staff of 32 and six left in July because they refused the vaccine.
Now she will urge parents to have their children vaccinated. While many parents couldn’t wait to give their child the injection, many others are hesitant.
It’s the same across the country.
The moment April Lowe learned that a coronavirus vaccine had been recommended for children ages 5 to 11, she called her children’s pediatrician.
Before federal health authorities gave the go-ahead, Lowe, 36, of Jackson Springs, NC, had tried unsuccessfully to persuade the doctor to vaccinate her oldest son, explaining that he was nearly 12 and that his history of asthma and other respiratory problems got in the way. with a higher risk of serious illness. She also tried to get her children into a clinical trial. So when she got the doctor’s office on the phone last week, she booked the earliest appointment and had her 7- and 11-year-old sons vaccinated.
And when a vaccine becomes available for her 2-year-old, she said she won’t hesitate.
“I knew without a doubt that once they were approved, we would get them,” she said of Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine.
While parents like Lowe have tried to immunize their 5 to 11-year-old children, pediatricians say the demand for their time has increased to strain the capacities of their practices, many of which are short of nurses and support staff in line with national labor trends. . Pediatricians across the country are describing a large number of appointment requests that have left them both overwhelmed and energized as they try to prevent children from contracting or spreading the virus that causes Covid-19.
The deluge of phone calls started in the summer, when declining coronavirus infections led to nurseries and schools reopening in person, sometimes without mask requirements. Common respiratory viruses were booming and a flood of patients returned for regular checkups and vaccinations they had postponed at the start of the pandemic. Pediatricians also continued to monitor the mental health of their patients, many of whom have had increased depression, anxiety or behavioral problems since the start of the pandemic, doctors said.
Then the highly contagious delta strain of the coronavirus spawned a new wave of cases, increasing the need for testing. Pediatricians soon found themselves “underwater,” said Michael Martin, president of the Virginia division of the American Academy of Pediatrics. In a “call for help” shared on Facebook in September, Martin wrote that pediatricians’ offices were unable to keep up with demand for visits due to staff shortages, burnout of health workers and a significant increase in coronavirus testing required by daycare centers and schools. .
Now those pediatricians are also racing to vaccinate their patients against the disease that has claimed the lives of more than 600 children in the United States since early 2020. While schools and pharmacies help with distribution, pediatricians bear most of the responsibility for vaccinating children.
“We’re excited that kids are getting the vaccine,” said Christoph Diasio, a pediatrician in Southern Pines, NC. “It’s hard work, but hard work is what we do in primary care.”
More than 900,000 children ages 5 to 11 will have received their first vaccine dose by the end of Wednesday, and another 700,000 appointments are scheduled at pharmacies, Jeff Zients, White House coronavirus response coordinator, said Wednesday.
Pediatricians from California to Virginia say they have a long list of names of parents who want their younger children vaccinated. Some doctors have office staff dedicated to making the appointments. And most hold vaccine clinics, often after business hours, to get small arms shots.
Several pediatricians said they expected the question to align with a survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation last month, which found that about 27% of parents were eager to get their children vaccinated as soon as possible. Doctors said they expect the initial increase will eventually lead to lower vaccination rates, as a third of parents say they are taking a wait-and-see approach.
“We all went into this field to care for children,” said Kate Williamson, a pediatrician in Orange County, California. “And we know this is just a time for us to get up and work a little bit more to save lives.”
In Virginia, Martin said 91% of the 262 pediatricians he surveyed were understaffed in September. Nearly three-quarters said they had rejected or referred sick patients in the past month, and 38% said they were unable to complete the amount of coronavirus testing requested by families and schools.
Some primary care facilities wouldn’t necessarily be short of staff if they faced normal demand, Boogaard said, but they are struggling to hire additional help to meet current need. The number of traveling nurses who could normally intervene has declined because of the same burnout that affects other health professionals, she said, and most of those who remain have already been hired.
Some doctors’ offices have managed to find temporary or necessary staff to fill the gaps. Others have temporarily shortened their locations. At least one office wrote to parents for patience as well as suggestions from applicants. They were given several clues in response, Beers said.
But most pediatricians said they focus on maximizing the efficiency of their remaining employees while trying not to overwhelm them and get them to quit. More than 450,000 health professionals have left the sector since February 2020, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported this month. Last month, the Department of Health and Human Services pledged $100 million to recruit and retain clinicians.
(The Washington Post contributed to this report.)