At Forest Lane Pediatrics, staff have volunteered to immunize children on the first Saturday after the vaccine is made available to children ages 5 to 11. The clinic was already understaffed, but for five hours this Saturday outside of normal business operations, they delivered 200 doses of COVID-19 vaccine.
The following Saturday they did it again. Forest Lane partner Dr Damien Mitchell says he expects demand for the vaccine to remain strong over the holidays as families stick around to get their first and second doses. “There was definitely a high demand, and it was a big stress for us to be able to meet that demand,” he says. “This will be an ongoing problem that we continue to resolve.”
Demand has been much quieter across town at Parkland community clinics. There was no overtime, no queues around the corner. In one of the eight community primary clinics operated by Parkland, there were no more than 15 to 20 childhood vaccinations for the entire week. “It’s more of a trickle and incremental increase,” says Dr. Donna Persaud, medical director of Homeless Outreach Medical Services at Parkland. “It’s a slow start.”
Since the vaccines were made available last month, the county’s public hospital system has vaccinated a total of 611 children. The slower demand is part of a larger pattern of lower immunization rates among people living in poverty, people who are more likely to visit one of Parkland’s clinics because they don’t have to. no private insurance. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that uninsured children are less likely to receive other vaccines than those who are insured. A 2017 to study found that only 75 percent of uninsured children aged 19 to 35 months received a dose of the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine, compared to 94 percent of those with private insurance.
Black and Hispanic children are more likely be adversely affected by COVID-19, but, according to available data, white and Asian children are vaccinated at many upper tariffs, the Kaiser Family Foundation has found. Parents of unvaccinated children are more likely to report barriers such as cost and transportation.
Access, education and confidence in the medical system are all factors that prevent vulnerable populations from achieving higher immunization rates. All vaccines are free for children, even if they are not insured or enrolled through Medicaid.
“We have a high use of childhood vaccines when they are recommended (during a doctor’s visit), but this rate is lower than other vaccines,” says Persaud. “It’s not unusual every time there’s a brand new vaccine. It takes a little while for parents to feel comfortable with this, so it’s not surprising.
At TLC Pediatrics of Frisco, Dr Marcial Oquendo says that while the clinic hasn’t had to add overtime to meet demand, there has been a constant flow of vaccinations. They make vaccine appointments part of their regular schedule and encourage them during wellness visits. “There was a much better reaction to the vaccination than I thought,” Oquendo said. “I thought for this vaccination we were going to have a lot more hesitation because people were going to wait longer, but people have already made up their minds.”
Simply hanging a sign that says “Childhood COVID-19 Immunizations” will not be enough to reach many communities. “This population will need more grassroots efforts, education and awareness raising with families,” said Persaud. “They need to feel more informed in terms of their level of confidence. We need more direct work from us.
And while Parkland has not been inundated with requests for vaccines, massive efforts are underway to do what it can. Parkland has partnered with school districts to immunize thousands of children ages 12 and older. Parkland has vaccinated 20,443 children in this age group since May. The health care system has partnered with Dallas ISD to gain permission for parents to be immunized through DISD Youth and Family Centers on city campuses.
Diagnostic lab company GenelQ has partnered with Carrollton-Farmers Branch, Dallas, Irving and Richardson ISDs to provide free COVID-19 vaccinations to elementary, middle and high school children. They handle the logistics of these events on campus, where caregivers will immunize children with parental permission in the cafeteria or auditorium. GenelQ is partnering with suppliers from Gulfstream Health to administer the vaccines and is booked until January. “Holding the event directly in schools is a huge benefit for parents who want to get their child’s children immunized as early as possible,” says Dru Griggs, senior vice president of operations at GeneIQ. “As demand continues, I expect we will continue to provide this service. “
As the omicron variant spreads and boosters are made available to all adults, awareness efforts will surely continue. Still, the conversation shifts from beating the virus to living with it.
“Much of the conversation I have with parents now helps them recognize that COVID is now rampant,” Mitchell said. “It means he will be with us forever.”
And that is why it is important that doctors receive injections in the arms as quickly as possible.