We vividly remember being interviewed by our doctor before the birth of our son and told in no uncertain terms that we would not be allowed into his practice if we were not willing to follow the childhood vaccination schedule that is being recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Being public health workers who have spent decades working on child immunization in countries from Namibia to Moldova, we chuckled at his repeated stern memories; our pediatrician preached to the choir.
So why aren’t some nurses in his office vaccinated? Because neither the state nor the federal government impose a vaccine mandate on small private practices, and the doctors in them worry about losing nurses and other support staff if they force their health care workers to get vaccinated.
An informal survey of friends found that our experience is not unusual – many pediatric practices do not have fully vaccinated staff. While the pediatricians we spoke to were unhappy that not everyone has been vaccinated, they said nursing shortages are acute and their small independent practices could not afford to lose nurses and still operate. And so they’ve decided it’s best for the common good of their patients, despite the avoidable risks.
At this point in the pandemic, it is not acceptable for unvaccinated health professionals to treat children. The American Academy of Pediatrics reports that the number of new pediatric COVID cases remains high, with 27 percent of weekly cases reported nationally in children. In Massachusetts, 30 percent of confirmed cases in the past two weeks have been in children. While few children die from COVID, studies have shown that up to a third of infected children had long-term COVID, whose long-term effects are still unknown.
Mandates have been shown to work well in increasing vaccination coverage among health professionals, with no significant turnover, as recent experience across the country has shown.
The major hospital systems in Massachusetts have enacted vaccine mandates for their staff, and Governor Charlie Baker has done the same for long-term health care facilities and home health workers, but he has not extended this to health workers in pediatric practices. The mandates have not resulted in a catastrophic exodus of health workers, and the system has not collapsed as initially feared — 90-97 percent of workers at Mass General Brigham, Boston Medical Center, and Beth Israel Lahey Health have met the requirements. for the deadlines of October 15-31.
Nurse Tor Hansen in the medical intensive care unit received one of the first doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine from RN Jennifer Lisciotti at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston on December 16, 2020. Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff
Baker needs to close the loophole for licensed health professionals who fall outside current mandates but still work with vulnerable populations, including children. This includes health professionals at the more than 100 independent community pediatric practices across Massachusetts that care for more than 200,000 children.
Other parts of the country are ahead of us on this. Vaccines are mandatory for federally qualified pediatric health center practices in all states and for all pediatric care – network-based and independent practices – in California, Colorado, Maine, New York, and Washington, D.C.
The Massachusetts Nurses Association itself believes that its members are “ethically, morally and professionally obligated to work collectively to reduce further harm to members, patients and communities…from COVID-19. . . and supports requiring FDA-approved COVID vaccinations for healthcare professionals.”
The most commonly cited reasons behind vaccine hesitancy, such as fear of side effects, vaccine safety, and infertility, have been disproved. The FDA-approved vaccines are safe, highly effective against hospitalization and death, and do not cause infertility.
The governor must act now to ensure that children, especially those too young to be currently vaccinated, are protected by those charged with looking after their health and well-being by requiring COVID vaccinations for all licensed health professionals in the country. the state. Our baby, and everyone else like him who are too young to be vaccinated, deserve it.
Shan Soe-Lin is general manager of Boston-based Pharos Global Health Advisors and a lecturer in global health at the Jackson Institute for Global Affairs at Yale University. Robert Hecht is the president of Pharos Global Health Advisors and a clinical professor of epidemiology at the Yale School of Public Health.