Last spring, pediatric vaccinations plummeted as much as 60% in Alabama as a result of the pandemic. Stay-at-home orders, closures of physicians’ offices and clinics, a switch to telemedicine, and fear of contagion associated with medical facilities or unnecessary public interaction led many parents to postpone immunizations for their children, according to a recent study in Preventive Medicine Reports. The Tdap, hepatitis B, varicella, and MMR vaccines experienced the greatest drop.
What many expected to be a brief change in practice has persisted to a significant degree, leading the CDC and the American Association of Pediatrics to urge healthcare professionals and parents to focus on making up those lost visits and catching up to the regular schedule of immunizations. “Routine vaccination within this population is critically important to reducing the risk of disease outbreak, preventing associated morbidity and mortality, and maintaining public health and safety,” the authors noted.
While pediatric vaccination rates began rising again last summer, particularly for children under age 2 years, many others remain behind on their shots. To help bring more children current on immunizations, the Department of Health and Human Services expanded pharmacists’ vaccination privileges nationally to include all Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP)-recommended vaccines for children aged 3 years and older.
Given the number of people who missed recommended shots over the last 13 months, bringing children, and their parents, up-to-date on their immunizations provides a significant revenue-boosting opportunity for pharmacists. To help the nation and local physicians meet immunization needs, pharmacists may want to consider drive-thru vaccinations on weekends or partnering with pediatricians who conduct well-patient visits remotely to provide immunizations for their patients in addition to increased marketing of regular vaccination opportunities.
The CDC provides a catch-up immunization schedule and the Immunization Action Coalition provides handouts summarizing the recommendations for children and adolescents as well as adults that can be distributed when patients are tested for COVID-19, included with prescriptions, made available at the pharmacy counter, or provided when patients come in for COVID-19 vaccines to emphasize that maintaining health involves more than just avoiding the SARS-CoV-2 virus, at any age.
Social media, email, text messages, and phone calls can be used remind patients of needed vaccines and subsequent shots in a series. Pharmacists can also use the “Catch-Up to Get Ahead” Toolkit created by HHS, which includes social media graphics, banners, videos, and other resources.
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