In November 2021, the long wait for pediatric vaccines to the COVID-19 virus is over. At the time of this post’s writing, plans from the Biden administration, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the CDC, and the FDA point to pediatric practices as key players in the work of vaccinating American children against COVID-19. Your practice can begin right now to prepare for the logistical and strategic opportunities that will help pediatricians deliver vaccinations to patients in your community -- whether you plan to administer vaccines or not.
What We Know So Far: Pediatric COVID-19 Vaccines
The U.S. government and health organizations including the Centers for Disease Control and Food & Drug Administration, plus the American Academy of Pediatrics encourage vaccinations for all eligible children between the ages of 5 and 11 in order to protect individuals and communities against SARS-COV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Patients aged 12 and older can receive the same formulation and dose as adults.
According to a news statement by the Biden administration, “The Administration is hosting operational readiness calls with every jurisdiction, encouraging them to help increase enrollment of pediatric providers, and will be providing resources to support them as critical partners in the outreach and public education campaign.”
The federal government is extending funding through the American Rescue Plan to all states, territories, and Tribes in order to accommodate the unique needs of providing vaccines to children. These logistical plans rely on pediatricians as a major source of support and reassurance for families and patients. Accessibility to both vaccine resources and communities means that providing pediatric COVID-19 vaccines may not be viable for all practices.
At the time of this post’s writing, the FDA has approved emergency authorization for use of a pediatric formulation of the COVID-19 vaccine. The CDC approved the vaccine’s emergency authorization in early November, 2021.
Vaccine Challenges for Pediatricians
While the decision to vaccinate children is a positive healthcare decision for eligible children, your practice will need to determine whether or not offering pediatric COVID-19 is viable for your location and community, and take the best course of action for your patients and practice. Some of the challenges pediatricians may face are access to vaccines themselves, and reliable access to patients in the 5 to 11 population group.
Offering vaccines is a great way to maintain and establish deep connections with communities and individual families for years to come, and to offer a measure of comfort for nervous patients with the familiar faces of their favorite pediatricians and nurses. Patients who can depend on their pediatrician are more likely to reappear for the routine but critical preventive care that keeps kids healthy and happy.
If our practice experiences obstacles such as vaccine access or patient recall, or you’re struggling to nail down a way to offer COVID-19 vaccines to the patients in your practice, you may want to reach out for further consultation to your region’s AAP chapter or business consultant.
Pediatric COVID-19 Vaccines: Recall, Clinics, and More
Vaccines for patients aged 5 to 11 are an exciting prospect for pediatricians eager to protect some of their youngest patients, especially as these children are more likely to swap sicknesses in school and childcare settings. Before any shots are administered, here’s how practice managers and pediatricians can prepare their practice, staff, and patients for the vaccine.
Step 1: Getting the Vaccine Vials
Getting your hands on the pediatric dose requires that physicians are registered with your state to receive the vaccine. You can find your state’s registry information via the AAP here. For example, providers in Missouri can register to order, receive, and administer vaccines for their practices -- they can also sign up to be a volunteer administrator, who may administer vaccines but not order them.
Step 2: Patient Recall & Recording Data
Before even receiving your first shipment of COVID-19 vaccine, -- and perhaps even before step 1 -- you’ll need to know how many patients are eligible for a shot. This will help you calculate how many doses are ideal for your practice, and then to determine how many you can deliver in a certain time. Patient recall should be a familiar tool and, but here are some tips:
- In your EHR or with another analytics tool, run a report to find how many 5 to 11 year old patients are in your practice. Separately, run another report for 12+ patients and determine how many are eligible for an adult dose.
- Develop a recall strategy: will you call, text, email or inquire about vaccinations at every visit? A multi-pronged strategy is helpful for most pediatric practices. PCC’s Broadcast Messaging tool can help users send out messages to all patients or a select group, like 5-to-11-year-olds.
On the heels of effective patient recall is a plan to offer vaccines when the vials and kids arrive. You can choose anything from daily vaccination during visits to busy but effective vaccine clinics.
Data collection during busy clinic days is crucial. Tools like online scheduling platforms can help: PCC practices have reported success with Full Slate and IntakeQ. Be sure to also have access to the EUA (Emergency Use Authorization Fact Sheets) from the CDC (when available) and the required vaccine consent forms.
Step 3: Store & Secure Vaccines
The pediatric COVID-19 dose is smaller than the adult version, and a different formulation. According to the AAP, “The vaccine will come in 10-dose vials in cartons of 10 vials each. The vials will be different than those for the adolescent and adult vaccine. The pediatric vaccine can be stored for up to 10 weeks at standard refrigeration temperatures.”
Visit the CDC’s toolkit on vaccine cold-chain storage for more information on secure vaccine handling.
Step 4: Staffing and Delivering Vaccines
Practices have different strategies for staffing, and the one that works for your practice may take some trial and error. If you choose an event for vaccination events like a drive-thru clinic, you could choose to incentivize staff with extra compensation, schedule flexibility, or other rewards. Many practices report that staff are eager to help protect their communities, and it’s always worth communicating the importance of the work your practice is doing for kids in your city or town.
For advice on delivering vaccines in a drive-thru clinic, check out our previous post to learn all about how to set up and deliver vaccines on the go. PCC users can visit PCC Learn for detailed information on the tools PCC offers for such an event.
When To Consider Not Offering COVID-19 Vaccines
Your practice may be overwhelmed or uncertain about offering COVID-19 vaccines to children or adults. During a busy autumn season and an unprecedented health emergency, it’s not uncommon for pediatricians to be feeling burnt out. While all practices should consider offering vaccines as a strategy to efficient, widespread vaccination, there are also ways to help outside of vaccinating kids at your practice.
Some challenges are manageable: if you’re worried patients won’t be willing to sign up for a flu clinic or whether you can access enough vaccines, communication with both patients and your state’s Department of Health can help alleviate these concerns. Simply ask: how many families are willing to get the vaccine? How many vaccines can you offer? With the right expectations in mind, you can begin a plan for vaccination events or for other options.
Worried about whether your practice has sufficient vaccine storage? The pediatric COVID-19 vaccine can be stored for “up to 10 weeks at standard refrigeration temperatures.”
If your practice will not be offering vaccines for children, there’s still plenty to do to ensure kids in your practice have access to the shot. In the coming weeks and months, stay in touch with local schools, hospitals, and pharmacies to ensure that you can refer patients to the nearest available dose. Here are some more options to consider:
- Pediatricians could volunteer to oversee or direct vaccination events outside the practice, such as at schools or hospitals
- Create a directory for local COVID-19 vaccine events and locations for your families to access on your practice website
- Ask families at each visit if they are considering the COVID-19 vaccine, and work to collaborate together against vaccine hesitancy and misinformation
- Coordinate with local resources, hospitals, schools, and communities to ensure that families without access to reliable transportation can access the vaccine for their children
If your practice cannot offer the pediatric vaccine, you can still opt to offer the adult vaccination to patients 12 and older, as well as caregivers and community members. See our previous post for more information about offering adult COVID-19 vaccines.
Finally, configure your EHR for the correct diagnosis and billing codes for the COVID-19 vaccine. PCC clients can learn to do this in PCC EHR here. You can visit the AAP for information about coding, billing, and getting paid for the COVID-19 vaccine.
There’s much to prepare for, but this is an exciting time for pediatricians, parents, and patients alike. During your planning, your practice is sure to come up with a list of questions. Find answers to these and many more with PCC's latest list of COVID-19 resources.