This story appeared in the Tennessean. Read the full story here.

Preventing additional diseases, especially during the pandemic, is critical for keeping hospitals operational and not overwhelming medical staff.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, vaccination rates for children have dropped precipitously compared to the same time last year. Many parents and caregivers have delayed visits to their pediatrician’s office because of understandable concerns about COVID-19 transmission.

Despite pediatric practices doing their best to alleviate concerns with strategies such as separating sick and well visits and arranging their waiting rooms to facilitate physical distancing, parents’ and caregivers’ fears persist and are unlikely to diminish anytime soon, given the recent uptick in cases in many locations.

In addition, other factors have contributed to reduced pediatric visits for vaccinations. Many clinics have prioritized more vulnerable children (such as those under 2 years of age), making it difficult for older children to be seen for well-child visits. Some families may be concerned about using public transportation or struggle to juggle childcare and work responsibilities, which is also likely contributing to fewer well-child visits. Finally, although many clinics have implemented telehealth visits as a promising alternative to in-person visits, telehealth certainly does not cut it for vaccinations.

It is critical that children stay current with their vaccinations. This dramatic decrease in vaccinations is alarming because it leaves children and communities vulnerable to measles, whooping cough, chickenpox and other serious vaccine-preventable diseases. Preventing additional diseases, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, is critical for keeping hospitals operational and not overwhelming medical staff. What would happen, for example, if there was a measles outbreak on top of the COVID-19 pandemic? Hospitals in many areas are already stretched to their limits.

It is important that health care providers and public health officials across the country find ways, in these fraught times, to facilitate and encourage families to get their children vaccinated according to the recommended schedules. Since broad population-level vaccination is important to build herd immunity for vaccine-preventable diseases, we need solutions that can be deployed widely, including in communities with fewer resources and in rural locations.

Here are a few ideas:

Drive-up vaccinations
Drive-up vaccinations at health care facilities are one creative solution to this dilemma. Specific parking spots can be designated for these immunizations. It works much like curbside groceries or takeout. You call the number posted on the sign, and the nurse or provider comes out and gives your child or children their immunizations. Done! Your child is protected from these serious diseases.

Vaccination stations
It may not be possible, however, for all parents and caregivers to access vaccination through a clinic or have transportation available to drive to these locations. To remedy these obstacles, outside vaccination stations could be set up similar to the way that COVID-19 testing is being done in many communities.

Vaccine vans
What child does not come running when they hear the music of the ice cream truck? A “vaccine van,” as it stops in communities, could provide immunizations to children who may not have easy access to a clinic. This concept was successfully tried in Boston. A vaccine van would not have treats as sweet as ice cream, but it could offer a much-needed diversion for children who have been cooped up for months. More importantly, it could save lives.

To be sure, these creative solutions may require changing usual procedures and must obtain financial investments of support. However, overall public health is at stake, and children will need these vaccines when in-person schooling resumes full time.

We have come together in this pandemic to prop teddy bears in windows to entertain children. It is now time to come together to advocate for creative solutions to address the precipitous drop in vaccinations. Now is the time to act.