By Kristie Clark MD
It was a great honor for me to finally meet Governor Kelly at the Press Conference in Topeka in June where she announced the generous vaccination grant to the KAAP, but what stands out most about that day was my conversation with the late Dan Leong, the Chair of the Immunize Kansas Coalition. Off to the side of the room by the large sunny windows of the Kansas Health Institute, we discussed the importance of having community advocates for vaccinations.
In our work as pediatricians, we must know our WHY. We want kids to grow up healthy and able to pursue their goals, but how do we do get community members involved? This is a challenge. However, we must involve community members as vaccination advocates, particularly in our minoritized populations.
This need was exemplified at the AAP Leadership Conference, which I just attended virtually this month, when Dr. Pam Shaw noted in her lecture that some patients mistakenly perceive pediatricians who recommend vaccinations as being paid by big pharma! Fittingly, later in the conference, Mark Del Monte, the CEO of the AAP, reminded us of a quote attributed to Mark Twain: “A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes.” The veracity of this quote rings loud and true, particularly in this pandemic and with the COVID-19 vaccine.
Where do we start? I began by vaccinating my 12- and 15-year-old sons against the COVID-19 vaccine as soon as it was approved and then let others know. I wouldn’t recommend for other children anything I wouldn’t do for my own. Although it may feel like trust in medicine and science has eroded, Dr. Goza in her talk reminded us that nurses then physicians are still the most trusted members of the community. Your personal recommendation for vaccination—coupled with your nurse’s recommendation—is vital to improving our vaccination rates and protecting Kansas kids. Also, Dr. Goza reminded us of something which I’m now repeating like a mantra: “Calm is contagious.”
Moving forward, we have more work to do. Over 140,000 children in the U.S. have lost a caregiver due to COVID-19, and their grief and trauma will be ongoing even after this pandemic is over. At the conference, I was reminded by Dr. Keeshin that trauma and PTSD can appear as ADHD symptoms but require very different treatment; also, not all children with trauma or suicide risk will be identified on a depression or anxiety screen. We are improving our screening rates, and we must be mindful of the results and not let them replace our medical decision making.
On a positive note, according to a panel of pediatric infectious disease experts at the conference, our current COVID-19 vaccine works to protect against the highly transmissible Delta variant, and we can look forward to having the vaccine approved for 5–11-year-old children soon. Children ages 6 months through 4 years of age are in phase 2 trials for the COVID-19 vaccine now.
My meeting with Dan Leong and his recent passing reminds me of the importance of relationships and meeting together—the most important interactions often happen off to the side by the big windows that let in light. I hope to see you at the Fall Progress in Pediatrics in Wichita on September 24th, but in the meantime know that KAAP is here for you!
Thank you for all you do for children,
Kristie Clark MD, FAAP
President, Kansas Chapter, American Academy of Pediatrics