Family doctors step up as last line of defense against vaccine hesitancy

Although 54% of the U.S. population is now fully vaccinated for COVID-19, vaccine hesitancy is still prevalent, now with a newer group—parents of children ages 12 and under. Family doctors and pediatricians are now being called to the front lines to create trust among these parents of children who can now be vaccinated.

A recent COVID-19 collaborative poll revealed that a recommendation from a child’s pediatrician would earn trust from 83% of parents.

Srikar Reddy, a family physician for the Ascension Medical Group who is offering the Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson vaccines at his practice, said that “much of the reluctance comes from patients who have already contracted COVID-19 and believe they are currently immune.”

Reddy uses the vaccines’ effectiveness against new, possibly more contagious variants as a tool to influence reluctant patients.

Mass vaccination sites also contribute to reluctant attitudes for parents and guardians. The person administering the shot at a mass site is likely a stranger. However, mass vaccination sites are decreasing, and more long-time family doctors are administering COVID-19 vaccines to young patients at their offices.

“The low-hanging fruit is gone, and we’re entering this critical phase where primary care doctors who people trust are tasked with getting the next 10% to 15% of people vaccinated,” Reddy stated.

Family doctors are also pushing the notion that the vaccine can fit into families’ regular routines.    “Many of these sites are offering walk-in vaccines, so it may be as easy as adding vaccinating your child to your grocery list the next time you go out to get some milk at your local grocery store or pharmacy,” said Dr. John O’Reilly, a long-in-practice pediatrician who heads Baystate Medical Center’s general pediatrics division.

Some pediatricians are turning to social media to help reach parents and offer accurate information. They are aware that social platforms are where real, unfiltered conversations are happening. You can read some of these conversations, including parents’ pleas to other parents, on Twitter. One tweet said: “Many parents are simply opposed to ‘cocktails’ of vaccines which are two or three in one. They are not opposed to single dose vaccines given separately to allow the body to process and overcome the side effects and avoid catastrophic adverse effects. The issues are often confused.”

Another tweet said: “Pediatricians and pediatric cardiologists are warning parents COVID is much much much scarier than the risk of myocarditis from the vaccine. Cool cool, agree—then why the [expletive] is California eliminating the mask mandate when kids don’t have their shots yet?!” @CAgovernor.

Yet another tweet said: “It’s astounding how many parents still talk as if the COVID vaccine was magically developed out of thin air by randos somewhere, untested, without a hint of science or decades of research on similar SARA/MERS vaccines. Please, please get the facts.”

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