In early 2021, the FDA granted emergency use authorization of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for adolescents 12 to 15 years old. However, approval of the vaccine for children aged 2 to 11 is still pending and may not arrive until autumn. So even as adolescents and adults continue to be vaccinated and communities return to near-normal activities, there’s still plenty for pediatric practices to do to respond to the needs of kids. In this post, we’ll cover COVID-19 vaccine distribution, sports physicals, and safe summer practices to keep families and kids safe and healthy all summer long.
Distributing COVID-19 Vaccines at Your Pediatric Practice
An especially important part of your practice’s revenue and community health this summer will be the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines in the spring and summer of 2021. Widespread vaccination of adolescents and adults provides a safety net for kids who are ineligible to be vaccinated, either because of their age or because receiving the vaccine is not ideal, such as in cases of immunodeficiency.
Vaccination efforts can create a safer environment for all children to enable them to rejoin friends, participate in activities and sports, and give kids the break they deserve after a mentally exhausting year. Your practice can offer COVID-19 vaccine, too -- here’s a quick list to get you started:
- Apply with your state’s Department of Health to distribute vaccines and apply for the CDC’s COVID-19 Vaccination Program
- Once your practice is “activated” and is set to receive vaccines, decide your distribution model: you can offer vaccines during regularly scheduled visits, or offer a clinic setting to distribute vaccines -- this is especially effective if you’re offering vaccines to adults.
- Get the word out about your vaccination program! Social media, local news media, newspapers, and in-office advertising can let your community know your office is a familiar and safe place to get their COVID-19 vaccine.
- Code and bill to be paid appropriately. The American Academy of Pediatrics has a guide for billing for COVID-19 vaccines, including advice for uninsured patients.
Why Sports Physicals Are Critical
It may seem early to anticipate fall sports in early summer, but sports physicals and other preventive care visits are a boon for pediatricians who might not see their patients as often as they would like. Sports physicals have been and remain an opportunity to check in on tweens and teens in person rather than from their medical history and annual checkups, and with anecdotal evidence of mental health concerns increasing, it’s a great time to give kids resources that will last them the summer and into their first post-pandemic school year.
We’ve written about the critical sports physical before. See the blog post for information on injury prevention, managing your practice as an urgent care setting, and billing for sports physicals -- an important revenue consideration during a season when many kids aren’t getting colds or sore throats.
Crucially, the sports physical is also a time to offer more information on their COVID-19 vaccine. Physicians can be great sounding boards for their concerns, and offer both information and perspectives. Young adolescents may be concerned for their health and that of their friends and families, and also concerned with the ability to attend summer activities, camps, and see friends to make up for lost time.
This chance to see kids in the office is an opportunity to talk about other concerns too, such as whether they’re sexually active, have healthy relationships, or whether they need support at school or home to adjust to changes after the pandemic, such as the loss of important milestones or changes to their favorite sport or activity. You can learn about more ways to support athletes and their families in the AAP’s interim guidance for returning to sports.
How to Keep Kids Safe at Summer Camp, Traveling, and More
While many communities are returning to pre-pandemic activity, it can still be jarring for parents and for kids to take the plunge, especially if returning to summer activities means being away from the safety of home or among strangers, such as at a summer camp or while traveling. Pediatricians can guide families through the safest choices for their children this summer, leading to resilient kids and safe communities. The AAP’s Healthychildren.org has a great collection of articles for parents considering safe but fun activities for kids this summer.
The AAP and CDC’s travel guidelines are simple but actionable enough for families to follow on the go while keeping kids safe. First, as mentioned above, children and adults planning on traveling should get a COVID-19 vaccine when they are eligible. Next, except for when families are outside or alone together inside, unvaccinated and vaccinated people over the age of 2 should wear a mask while traveling. The CDC also recommends checking the COVID-19 spread rates at a family’s chosen destination and to consider the number of close contacts they’ll have during their trip.
Just as parents should trust their pediatrician to look for their child’s best interests, they should have confidence in their choice of summer camp. Key considerations will include the number of activities planned inside versus outside, the number of kids together at a time, meal and eating considerations, and safety and cleaning measures at the camp.
It will be important for pediatricians to acknowledge that separation anxiety during periods such as a child’s time at sleepaway camp is both normal and fine for parents and kids. The Child Mind Institute recommends practicing separation, validating feelings, and building support for families concerned about separation anxiety -- which can happen when kids go back to school, too.
Whether it’s Independence Day celebrations, summer fairs, or beach birthday parties, it’s hard for many parents to deny kids a fun summer. Just as parents and pediatricians have had to remain flexible and creative during the pandemic to keep kids safe, a few adjustments to typical summer plans can offer a good time while observing necessary safety precautions.
Just as for summer camp or traveling, families should mask when congregating inside with others. In many areas of the country, the weather will allow for safer outdoor gatherings. Parties can include single serve beverages and a little extra space. As Dr. Datta Munshi MD, FAAP for Healthychildren.org writes, “We can help children ease back into dearly missed events like birthday parties and other landmark celebrations such as graduation picnics. Just remember to prioritize safety, head outside whenever possible, be creative and flexible when needed, and get your COVID-19 vaccines when you can.”
It’s been a tough year for all of us, and especially for kids. Mental and behavioral healthcare can help support kids who may be struggling. Your practice can help by offering telehealth visits, behavioral health support, and with collaborative work with behavioral health professionals such as psychologists or social workers. The AAP offers this database to search for collaboration opportunities in your state. You can also learn about integrated care options at any budget from our ebook.