The new year begins with good news for anxious parents wanting COVID-19 vaccinations and boosters for their children. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration grantedemergency use authorizationof the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine booster for children 12 to 15 years of age. This means everyone over the age of 12, including adults, can get booster shots. The FDA also allows a third primary series dose for certain immunocompromised children 5 through 11 years of age.

This comes as Houston’s Texas Children’s Hospital, the country’s largest pediatric hospital, saw a four-fold increase in childhood COVID-19 hospitalizations over the last two weeks of December, withmore than 700 children hospitalized during one 24-hour period. The emergence of the Omicron variant and the surge the Delta variant demonstrate the need for vaccinations and boosters for everyone eligible to receive them.

As a practicing pediatrician and a member of The Immunization Partnership Health Equity Council for Immunizations, I am concerned about the disproportionately higher COVID-19 infection and hospitalization rates among children of color. AKaiser Family Foundationanalysis released in September showed these higher rates create racial disparities when it comes to vaccinations.

We have many forms ofhealth disparities, including inadequate access to health care. TheTexas Department of State Health Servicesis working to improve vaccine access by providing the pediatric vaccine for the 2.9 million eligible children, with other providers making up the difference. The agency says Texas children can get their vaccines at pediatrician offices, county health departments, pharmacies, and some school districts.

That helps with access, but we still have distrust and lack of information driving hesitancy in our communities of color. I try to address these concerns with my parents who remain unsure. Ihopeour ongoing conversations about the health of their children have established a trust level that will result in their children receiving the vaccine.

Scary numbers about children getting sick or dying from the disease are not as effective as the trust established through one-on-one visits between parent and physician. When we form that trust, parents are more likely to accept information about the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine.

My pediatrician colleagues should be aware of the cultural, political, or religious influences behind the hesitancy with our parents, not only in our communities of color, but also in all our communities. The COVID-19 virus does not respect culture, language, politics, or religion. It is up to healthcare providers and public health workers to discover the most effective ways to remove these community hesitancies, particularly among parents concerned with the safety of their kids.

The ability to protect Texans as young as five is a major step toward ending the pandemic. It requires, however, a partnership between pediatrician and parent, one that begins with open and honest discussions about concerns, anxieties, and what is in the best interest for the health and well-being of the children who rely on us—informed and caring adults—to do what is right for them.

Families deserve the chance to get back to an active life without constant worries. The vaccines and boosters are their best shot.

Editor’s Note: The above guest column was penned by Suma Manjunath, MD, FAAP, pediatrician and managing physician of the Travel MedicineClinicsat Kelsey SeyboldClinicin Houston, Texas. Manjunath is a member ofThe Immunization Partnership Health Equity Council for Immunizations. The Immunization Partnership is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization with the mission to eradicate vaccine-preventable diseases by educating the community, advocating for evidence-based public policy, and supporting immunization best practices. Manjunath can be reached by email via: [email protected]

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