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Our Turn: Recklessly endangering New Hampshire children during a pandemic

Published: 10/22/2021 6:00:03 AM

We anticipate that FDA and CDC advisory groups will approve the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for children aged 5-11 in less than two weeks. As pediatricians, we are excited for this opportunity to further protect our patients. We should all be excited by the possibility that vaccinating this population will help finally end the pandemic.

However, the NH Executive Council and Joint Fiscal Committee’s recent rejections of $27 million in federal funds will significantly slow access to the vaccine for kids in the Granite State. We strongly urge the Executive Council to reconsider that decision and vote to accept this crucial funding.

Now is the time to do everything possible to vaccinate New Hampshire children as quickly as possible. As the transmission of the COVID-19 Delta variant intensifies across the state, case rates are rising with over 30% of the new infections under age 18. Not only are kids at risk of serious illness due to infection, but even mild cases cause quarantines that are disruptive to working families. The burden of child care falls inequitably and unfairly on essential workers who cannot work remotely, and especially on women, who have disproportionately dropped out of the workforce during the pandemic.

Primary care practices and hospitals stand ready, as always, to administer vaccines to children. But we are already stretched thin, financially stressed and worn down by this pandemic. COVID-19 federal funds would support additional staffing required to meet the demand and documentation, as well as office infrastructure such as deep-cold freezers that is not a luxury, but a necessity as we move into the winter months. Even with that support, we cannot do it alone. The funds could also allow the public health networks, community centers, schools and other agencies to mount vaccine clinics to reach more kids more quickly.

Expanded availability of the vaccine holds promise for a return to normalcy, with less need for other in-person school mitigation measures such as mask mandates and physical distancing requirements. Ultimately, vaccinating more children will help us reach the community immunity threshold needed to conquer the coronavirus.

As pediatricians, we will work closely with parents, who always make the final decisions for their children’s health. It is not the Executive Council’s role to limit these options for families and children. That is not the New Hampshire way.

(Drs. Erik Shessler, Christine Arsnow, Steve Chapman and Keith Loud are leaders of the New Hampshire Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.)

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