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The Path Forward is Paved with Vaccines

As summer wanes, so does optimism about returning to pre-pandemic “normal” life. The Delta variant is surging. More kids are getting infected. People are weary of the pandemic’s inconveniences.

The best way to finally move forward? Vaccinate all eligible people.

Just today, the Food and Drug Administration gave full approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for people 16 years of age and older. The vaccine continues to be available under emergency use authorization for children as young as 12.

Overcoming COVID-19 Vaccine Hesitancy

Despite the vaccines’ safety and efficacy, nearly a third of Americans are holding out. The situation gives new importance to National Immunization Awareness Month this year. Showing compassion and working to understand the concerns of those who are unsure about getting vaccinated are at the heart of this awareness month.

The COVID-19 vaccines have been through rigorous clinical trials and have been proven to lessen the severity of symptoms for people who do contract the disease. In some cases, infected people can avoid symptoms entirely.

While hospitals’ COVID-19 wards are back at capacity, the people occupying those beds are overall younger, with fewer comorbidities. The vast majority of them are also unvaccinated. According to health care provider accounts online and in the news, many of these patients regret not being vaccinated. Sharing those stories – with compassion, not shame – can help convince people who remain on the fence.

Gaps in Childhood Immunizations

While young children aren’t yet eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine, public health has long relied on having kids immunized against a host of other conditions. Yet childhood immunization rates plummeted as COVID-19 led many people to postpone non-urgent care. In New York City, for example, vaccine doses given to children older than 2 dropped by 91% during the spring of 2020.

Fast forward to 2021. Vaccine rates for children remain lower than usual in many parts of the country. In Florida, data show, less than 80% of children between 24 and 35 months who rely on their county health department for vaccines received them this year. One official called the dip “alarming.”

Encouraging Immunizations

The role of immunizations in keeping the public safe from multiple diseases is indisputable. It’s broadly accepted that widespread vaccination is also the way out of the current pandemic.

Some public health departments are contacting parents directly in an effort to return child vaccine rates to pre-pandemic levels. And in some parts of the country, community health workers are going door-to-door to reach those who haven’t had the COVID-19 vaccine yet. Beyond providing transportation, some states are offering incentives like restaurant vouchers and lottery tickets.

Immunizations have helped control many conditions, including polio, tetanus and rubella. It’s time to add COVID-19 to that list.

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