Commentary: If anyone knows how to vaccinate, it’s a pediatrician; they should be enlisted in COVID-19 effort

We hesitate to add yet another voice to the chorus of criticism for COVID vaccine distribution, but as a longtime primary care pediatric practice, we feel the need to speak out and offer our services. We were struck over the past few days by the comments from politicians lamenting the fact that the COVID vaccine rollout has been “as incomprehensible as it has been inexcusable.” We agree, as we are even today still working to find vaccine to protect our front-line clinical staff.

Republican Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah suggests we should enlist “every medical professional, retired or active, who is not currently engaged in the delivery of care. This could include veterinarians, combat medics and corpsmen, medical students, EMS professionals, first responders, and many others who could be easily trained to administer vaccines.” As a medical practice that is currently engaged in delivering care, we would like to offer some statistics on our current and ongoing provision of services to our community, which could easily include COVID vaccine if asked.

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Annapolis Pediatrics has been providing exceptional pediatric care to Annapolis, Maryland, and the surrounding community for over 70 years. Within the first two months of the pandemic, we suffered a 60% loss in volume and corresponding revenue. We continued to see children for essential well child care, which has always included vaccination. If our vaccination systems failed, we would have been leaving a generation of children open to the next pandemic, and sadly that could be disease we have already conquered. We have survived and thrived, with some help from the Paycheck Protection Program, despite ongoing challenging circumstances to deliver medical care.

Vaccination has been consistently proven to be one of the few preventive health measures that has positively impacted the health of our society, with lowering of morbidity and mortality, and includes real cost-savings in our health care budget. In all of our five offices, we have an ongoing system of trained professionals who administer 15,000 Influenza vaccines over a three-month period every fall — this year most were performed in drive-thru vaccination clinics in our parking lots. In addition, we administer 115,000 vaccines to children throughout the year. Vaccination is fundamental to our purpose as pediatric care providers; we also counsel all our families regarding the benefits of vaccines, we follow-up on any problems, and we are a medical home for over 30,000 children in our community.

Health Departments are underfunded and understaffed, pharmacies are new to vaccine administration, and hospital staff are overworked providing sick care. These systems are the ones being asked to initiate setup for a massive vaccination campaign. We have been running a massive vaccination campaign for decades, and in addition, we have staff we need to employ. Our current patient volumes are about 80% of our usual winter sick volumes, and as a business we have staff we want to continue to employ. There is no question that local health departments should be funded well enough to ramp up this service quickly, but in a crisis situation, this will not happen soon enough. In addition, health departments have never delivered the bulk of vaccination in most communities. While we hope to someday soon have a safe and effective COVID vaccine approved for our pediatric patients, pediatricians would be well positioned now to help with the adult vaccination effort (we would even consider offering the traditional after-shot lollipop).

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Primary care providers have long felt like the overlooked specialty in our American health care system. We are constantly fighting for fair treatment and reimbursement from insurance companies, and we don’t perform glamorous lifesaving procedures. We implore those who can make a difference to not overlook us now, as we could help rapidly distribute the lifesaving vaccine that is now available, without needing to train anyone new. It will continue to be our privilege to work together with our community in order to provide exceptional care to every person, adult and child, as we have been doing for decades.

Drs. Katherine Edwards and James Rice are, respectively, medical director and president of Annapolis Pediatrics in Maryland. Email: kedwards@annapeds.com, jrice@annapeds.com.