Commentary

Victoria Rhodin: Why Vermont’s young kids aren’t getting the Covid vaccine

Note: This story is more than a week old. Given how quickly the Covid-19 pandemic is evolving, we recommend that you read our latest coverage here.

This commentary is by Victoria Rhodin, a resident of Montpelier.

Perhaps, like me, you've seen the news coverage stating many Vermont parents are not getting their small children vaccinated against Covid. It turns out the actual story is more complicated. 

The Vermont Department of Health has been recommending to parents that they take their child to the pediatrician to get vaccinated. This is good practice — a familiar and safe environment, a trusted care provider who knows the family and can provide education and follow-up.

My daughter and son-in-law took their two-and-a-half-year-old son to his excellent and genuinely caring pediatrician at the Ottauquechee Health Center in Woodstock three weeks ago for his well child visit and Covid vaccine, which would allow him to finally meet his great-grandparents in person. When they got to the appointment, they were told the clinic wasn't vaccinating young children for Covid because they "didn't have their database set up" to be able to administer the vaccine. They were told they would get a phone call when the vaccine became available to children in that age group. (Incidentally, the vaccine was released for young children in the United States in mid-June.)

Time went by but no phone call came to schedule the vaccine. Worrying that a phone message might have gotten lost in the busyness of life with a toddler, I called the health center to inquire. The secretary told me the clinic, an affiliate of Dartmouth Health, still didn't have the computer system set up, and she had no idea when to expect it to be set up, although she thought more information (about the computer system, not the vaccine) might be available at the end of this week. Meanwhile, they were directing families to the Vermont Department of Health website.

"But the health department website tells people to contact their child's pediatrician!" I protested. She wore me down before I wore her down: I got off the phone and went to healthvermont.gov, navigating to "Covid vaccine age 6 months to 5 years." As I expected, this produced a list of pediatric offices (including the clinic I'd just been on the phone with) as well as the White River Junction district office of the Department of Health. 

When I dialed the number for the WRJ district office, I was connected to someone in Burlington! That person told me the Health Department has heard similar accounts from families about other pediatric offices around the state, and said she'd pass my concern on to her supervisor. I also encouraged her to contact the press, as this runaround might be one of the reasons so few young children in Vermont have been vaccinated against Covid just a few weeks before the start of school.

The helpful person in Burlington transferred the call to a helpful person at the WRJ district office of the health department, who suggested attending a walk-in clinic in Hartford later this week or one in Woodstock next week. He thought the walk-in clinic would be able to vaccinate a two year old. (I'm less confident, but we'll see — a busy clinic in a strange place isn't an ideal environment for toddler health care.) He didn't know anything about the pediatric list on the same website. If the parents couldn't take more time off from work to make one of the two walk-in clinics, he suggested they could take their toddler to Essex or to Springfield or "wherever was most convenient for them." 

I don't know if most parents of infants, toddlers and preschoolers are as persistent — or as unambivalent about the Covid vaccine — as a grandmother with time on her hands ("and a bad attitude," my husband adds) whose early career involved newspaper reporting. But even if they are — and even if they have the time, which working parents of little kids generally don't — it's not fair to put them through this kind of obstacle course just to access a vaccine the state says everyone should get but some parents have mixed feelings about. 

Make it easy to access, and people who are on the fence about the whole idea may go ahead and get their kids vaccinated. Make it hard and time-consuming, and even busy parents who are motivated to get the vaccine may just walk away. Most of all, go the second mile — make the effort, if someone is trying to get their kid vaccinated against Covid, don’t end the encounter until there is a clear and workable plan for vaccination.


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