Montana governor rejects vaccination campaign for children, so health officials plan theirs

The administration of Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte has canceled plans for a public service campaign to promote covid-19 vaccination for eligible teens over the summer, a former official said. state health. This has prompted public health and medical experts to plan their own advertising campaigns in anticipation that the administration will not publicly support injections for children as young as 5 when doses for young children are rolled out.

State approval and an advertising campaign on television, radio and the Internet could encourage and persuade undecided parents to get their children vaccinated. The lack of one could contribute to Montana’s persistent lag in vaccination rates and the high ranking of covid cases, hospitalizations and deaths.

Jim Murphy, former head of the communicable diseases bureau in the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services, said state health officials have started discussing plans to launch public service campaigns for the vaccine under former Governor Steve Bullock, a Democrat. The plans included promoting the vaccine to eligible teens, Murphy said.

Gianforte, a Republican, took office in January as vaccines rolled out across the country. In the months that followed, Murphy and other officials in the state’s health department began to write a text encouraging parents to get their teens vaccinated, he said. The governor’s office had the final say on what ended up in the ads and by late spring, Murphy said, the Gianforte administration cleaned up references promoting vaccines to children.

“The word our team got was that these scripts were under review and that we would not be directly promoting adolescent covid vaccination at the state level,” Murphy said.

Murphy said the Gianforte administration was concerned that the ads could be seen as infringing parental consent. Many officials within DPHHS believed the concern was unfounded as medical providers, pharmacies and public health departments administering injections all routinely deal with parental consent, he said.

Murphy retired from the agency at the end of June and recently pointed out that the state’s TV and radio ads have since had no direct promotion to children and their parents. The first vaccine for children 12 and older was licensed in May.

Gianforte’s office declined to make the governor available for an interview, but in a written statement spokesperson Brooke Stroyke said Murphy was not involved in creating promotional material for the covid vaccines under the administration Gianforte. Murphy disputed this claim and said that many divisions within the health department, including the communicable disease sections and laboratories under his oversight, helped draft public service announcements on vaccines sent to the office of the governor.

Stroyke said in the statement that Gianforte encourages parents to talk to their health care providers about vaccinating their children against covid.

Gianforte’s office said the DPHHS would continue to revise its vaccine awareness campaign, but did not say whether the state would promote vaccines for children.

At a press conference last month, when asked, Gianforte also declined to say whether his office intended to promote snaps for teens or the estimated 90,000 children aged 5 to 11 in the state.

“We’ll have to see what guidance we get that comes with the approval and we’ll make decisions based on that,” Gianforte said.

The Food and Drug Administration has authorized the emergency use of lower doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for children aged 5 to 11 years. The U.S. government and states are now preparing to roll out the injections after Tuesday’s official recommendation from the federal Centers for Disease Control. and Prevention.

About 55% of eligible Montanais are fully immunized, compared to 68% of people aged 12 and over nationwide. About 40% of eligible 12 to 17 year olds received their two vaccines, according to state data. Nationally, nearly 50% of children ages 12 to 17 are fully immunized, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Public health and medical experts fear that Montana’s 5 to 11-year-old group will also lag behind national averages in the absence of a coordinated vaccination campaign targeting skeptical parents.

Hayley Devlin is the spokesperson for the Missoula City-County Health Department, one of the state’s largest health departments. She said it’s usually the state health department that creates content for public health campaigns, like social media ads, videos or audio files, which can be repackaged locally. .

“We have not received any promotional material from DPHHS to encourage vaccination of children,” said Devlin.

In the absence of a state-coordinated vaccine promotion for children, Devlin led the launch of the county health department’s covid vaccination campaign for parents and children.

However, Matt Kelley, CEO of the nonprofit Montana Institute of Public Health, said small county or tribal health departments lack the resources to undertake their own campaigns.

“We are working to find ways to help them increase their capacity by helping to deliver some of these messages, but also by developing their own skills so that they can do it on their own,” Kelley said.

The Montana Medical Association is also launching a statewide campaign aimed at parents of children ages 5 to 17.

Kelley said it’s especially important to find effective messages that boost vaccination in children, especially younger ones, before winter, when conditions become more ideal for the spread of the highly infectious delta variant.

“Any parent knows how many raw vegetables come home with the kids when sickness season comes in winter. Covid is no exception to this, ”he said.

Montana schools saw nearly five times more cases of covid statewide in the first month of school this fall compared to last year. Public health experts said this was largely due to the lower number of schools imposing mask warrants and other precautions. Kelley and others have said this next round of vaccine-eligible children could help reduce that rate of transmission.

Jen Kates, senior vice president and director of global health and HIV policy at KFF, said that nationally, parents’ feelings about immunizing their children aged 5 to 11 are similar to those expressed when vaccines have been approved for use in children. and up to.

“About a third of parents say they’re ready to go, to rush out and get their child vaccinated as soon as it’s allowed, and then there’s a lot of waiting,” Kates said.

Another third of parents have no plans to vaccinate their young children, and the rest say they are in the wait-and-see crowd, she said.

Kates said these wait-and-see parents had largely decided to get their 12 to 15-year-olds vaccinated once their questions were answered.

Public immunization campaigns for young children will be useful in getting parents with questions to seek out pediatricians, which will be important for the upcoming rollout, she said.

Dr John Cole, president of the Montana chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, which practices in Kalispell, said its members have had these conversations and will remind parents that although most children infected with the covid virus do well, it’s hard to predict who will be badly affected.

He has seen children with multisystem inflammatory syndrome, or MIS-C, a rare complication of the disease in children that can be life threatening.

“We need a consistent message,” Cole said. “When we hear silence or not much message from the state level, I think it exudes a sense of nervousness or insecurity about the vaccine.”

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