Many parents are anxiously awaiting approval of the COVID vaccine for children under age 5. Once approved, the vaccines will close the final gap in vaccine access so that Americans of all ages can get immunized. As we wait for final approvals, the Biden Administration has been at work shoring up a range of partners and programs to be ready as early as June 20th.
Yesterday’s White House fact sheet outlined steps to secure and distribute vaccines for all young children. The plan promotes the importance of ensuring vaccines are available in a variety of trusted settings for families, including pediatricians or primary care practices, children’s hospitals, public health clinics and pharmacies.
Early childhood leaders know that successful efforts to promote early development before kindergarten rely on strong partnerships within child-and family-serving systems, programs and offices, from child welfare and public health to Medicaid agencies, child care and preschool settings, and home visiting, to name a few. With that in mind, an exciting aspect of the plan is the White House’s clear call to action for child- and family-serving systems across federal agencies. The fact sheet calls out the federal programs that will be leveraged to connect families to vaccine information and resources, with an emphasis on reaching the hardest-hit communities to advance health equity. In addition to Medicaid and CHIP, including the recent guidance to reiterate coverage for stand-alone vaccine counseling, the plan calls out programs across family-serving agencies:
- Women, Infants, and Children (Department of Agriculture)
- Head Start and Early Head Start (HHS Administration for Children and Families)
- Maternal Infant and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MICEHV, HHS Health Resources and Services Administration)
- Housing programs serving 800,000 children five and under (Department of Housing and Urban Development)
But the plan also enlists a range of outside partners, designed to create national campaigns on vaccination and also strengthen engagement and trust among families. These groups include the American Academy of Pediatricians and American Academy of Family Physicians, Association of Children’s Museums, American Library Association, National Parent Teacher Association (PTA), National Association of Community Health Centers (NACHC), as well as Latino, Black, Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander, and Native American community-focused organizations. These groups will host campaigns, education forums, and community-based vaccine events and provide educational materials to families.
Reaching young children and their families before kindergarten can be challenging, but Medicaid and CHIP provide a critical opportunity to reach these children, covering the vast majority of low-income young children under age 6. But getting these children the care and supports they need at the right time also requires that Medicaid and CHIP have strong connections to the other systems that serve young children such as child welfare, child care, early intervention and home visiting programs. This plan provides an immediate and concrete goal for systems and programs to work together at all levels to get young children vaccinated. When successful, we can take lessons learned to craft a longer-term roadmap for cross-system partnerships that center the needs of children and their families over bureaucracy. This plan is a great first step.
For more information on the White House Plan, see the fact sheet here.