According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), more than 4 million children have tested positive for COVID-19 in the U.S. since the start of the pandemic, and COVID-19 has caused serious illness, complications and even death in some children and teens. Yet, as of today, just 30 percent of the 23 million children ages 12 and older who are eligible for COVID-19 vaccines are fully vaccinated. Federal health officials warn that vaccinating eligible children and adolescents has become even more urgent as a new school year approaches and the highly transmissible Delta variant drives a surge in new infections across the country. In recent weeks, children have accounted for nearly a quarter of newly reported COVID-19 cases.
On Monday, the Health Action Alliance and AAP launched Business Action on Childhood Vaccinations, a new national effort to help working parents vaccinate eligible children against COVID-19 and catch up on other routine immunizations that may have been delayed during the pandemic. As part of the initiative, more than two dozen leading business and public health groups are calling on employers to make it easier for working parents who want to vaccinate their children.
During a Town Hall about the initiative, business and public health leaders emphasized why vaccinating children is an urgent priority.
Here are key lessons for employers from the Town Hall:
According to CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky, “COVID vaccines for children can also help parents get back to work. This is especially important for employers who are concerned about employee absenteeism and retention.” Amanda Brimmer, Managing Director & Partner at the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) noted, “The business case is very compelling. For employers, there's, of course, the direct benefit from encouraging adolescent vaccination, which helps working parents get back to work on a more reliable basis. Quite simply, adolescent vaccination is key...to safely reopening schools and keeping them open this fall.” BCG employs more than 20,000 worldwide and advises businesses on strategies to grow and build a sustainable competitive advantage.
What this Means for Employers: For more than a year during the pandemic, employers have had to develop strategies to support employees with children who are out of school. Meanwhile, families have been expected to help children manage a number of difficult challenges, including remote learning while balancing work and many other responsibilities. And this has been especially difficult for women in the workforce who shoulder a disproportionately heavy burden when it comes to unpaid leave. Community spread also can mean local shutdowns, or re-thinking masking and other safety guidelines.
What You Can Do: Research shows that employer encouragement and paid time off has significantly strengthened vaccine uptake among adult workers. Employer efforts to encourage vaccination for those that want it should now be expanded to support working parents who are considering vaccines for their children ages 12 and older. Together with AAP, we’ve developed an Employer Toolkit that offers specific strategies and tools to help your business support working parents who want to vaccinate their children.
AAP President Dr. Lee Savio Beers, noted that COVID-19 “is probably about the tenth leading cause of death for kids in the past year… this really is a very serious and significant infection.” She also highlighted the fact that “when kids get COVID, they can have impacts, just like adults, that last for months and months. And we don't really know what those long-term impacts are.”
Infected adolescents can spread COVID-19 to their younger siblings or unvaccinated community members. In addition, infected adolescents can trigger shutdowns in schools and quarantines for exposed school children and school staff.
There is also growing concern about missed childhood vaccinations, not just for COVID-19, but of other vaccine-preventable illnesses in children. Orders for vaccines from the CDC’s Vaccines for Children program were down by more than 11 million doses as of May 2 compared to two years ago.
Dr. Walensky remarked that “especially concerning are gaps for measles vaccine and other vaccines routinely recommended at 11 or 12 years of age, including meningococcal and T-Dap [Tetanus, diphtheria, & acellular pertussis]”. Protecting the health of our children is a critical public health and business priority.”
What this Means for Employers: When children are infected with COVID-19 (or other vaccine-preventable illnesses) parents need to stay home and care for their sick child. Reducing COVID-19 infections for children and family members will help keep schools open and kids in school. But families may not have the time to take their eligible children for shots for fear of missing work, or they may have fallen behind on routine vaccinations during the pandemic and are finding it difficult to catch up.
What You Can Do: Families may not be aware of the dangers to children for COVID-19 and they may not realize they have fallen behind on vaccinations for adolescents and younger children. As a trusted source, you can share facts about the safety and benefits of COVID-19 vaccines for children and provide information from CDC and other trusted sources about the importance of other routine immunizations.
Many parents are taking a “wait-and-see” approach to COVID-19 vaccinations, some out of a concern about vaccine safety. Engaging those who have questions about the safety of vaccinations, in a respectful and open manner, is incredibly important. Amanda Brimmer, Managing Director & Partner at the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) noted, “this [effort] is not about telling or having employers tell their employees what to do regarding vaccinating their children. It's about removing barriers, it’s about providing trusted facts.”
AAP President, Dr. Lee Savio Beers emphasized “it's OK to have questions. This has all been moving really fast. And just in terms of what we're learning and the information that's coming at people, and there's a lot of misinformation out there as well that people are having to filter out. And so it's absolutely OK to ask questions. And as your pediatricians, that's what we're there for.”
What this Means for Employers: Employers can go a long way in sharing information about vaccination and also telling their own stories. Daryl Brewster, CEO, Chief Executives for Corporate Purpose showcased the recent findings from the Edelman Trust Barometer that found “trust in business, particularly ‘my employer’, ‘the people I work with’ is higher than it's ever been.” He noted, “Those powerful stories that we can tell as leaders of organizations talking with people on a one on one basis...is key.”
What You Can Do: We’ve developed key messages and communications tips to help employers engage in thoughtful conversations about vaccinations - recognizing that safety concerns are real and that engagement and dialog with trusted community members is important. Consider reaching out to your local AAP chapter or local public health department to invite a pediatrician to speak at an event for parents in your workforce.
Dr. Cameron Webb, Senior Policy Advisor on the White House COVID-19 Response Team outlined four common barriers to COVID-19 vaccinations that many people, including working parents, often encounter: time, transportation, accessibility and trust.
What this Means for Employers: Breaking down vaccine barriers is key to stopping the spread of COVID and ensuring vaccine equity.
What You Can Do:
Tell us how your company is supporting working parents who want to vaccinate their children. We’re featuring best practices on our website and in future newsletters.
Public health guidance on COVID-19 is constantly evolving. Health Action Alliance is committed to regularly updating our materials once we've engaged public health, business, and communications experts about the implications of new guidance from the public health community and effective business strategies that align with public health goals. Together, we can turn the tide against COVID-19 and build a stronger, healthier future.
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