The fall and early winter of 2020 continue to remind us that we are living very differently than we did just a year ago. I missed Halloween this year since I have now retired from my clinical practice and thus did not dress up in a costume for my patients, and because of the pandemic and not wanting hundreds of kids (that’s how many we normally get) to come to my door for candy in a non-socially distanced, and probably unmasked way – I didn’t give out candy. Both brought sadness to me. I did, however, recently have the chance to be with our youngest granddaughter (almost 5 years old) and her parents for the first time in 9 months and it was great.
As this article goes to press, the outcome of the 2020 presidential contest faces great scrutiny, and a number of other election results may be subject to recounts. It appears that both the United States Congress and the Minnesota State Legislature will feature divided partisan control. Unfortunately, this will make passing some key MNAAP priorities, such as a repeal of the personal belief vaccine exemption, unlikely to succeed. However, MNAAP will continue to work with all interested parties, both in and outside of the legislature, to do what is best for children and adolescents.
There are three issues and their impact on pediatrics that are standing out to me (separate from the election): low rates of routine vaccinations, potential for a COVID-19 vaccination and when it would be available for our pediatric patients, and the declining birth rate. The ongoing low rates of routine vaccinations being given is very concerning for the health of all our patients and even if we don’t have another measles outbreak in the near future, we have already been seeing higher incidence of pertussis for years and lower vaccination rates can only make this worse.
The second issue is when will there be a COVID-19 vaccine and when it will be available for administration to our pediatric patients.
There is an excellent interview with William H. Foege, MD, MPH, in the October issue of JAMA Pediatrics, entitled “Who Gets Coronavirus Vaccine First” (You can watch it at https://edhub.ama-assn.org/jn-learning/video-player/18547812). Dr. Foege co-chaired the National Academy of Medicine consensus study report and talks about how the workgroup came up with their recommendations for vaccine distribution when it is available. It is very well thought out, but I will share that children are not at the top of list for getting the vaccine.
Finally, the U.S. birthrate is declining, which often happens with a recession, but its long term impact on pediatric practices and children’s hospitals, on top of the impact of the pandemic, may have a significant financial impact for the foreseeable future. I have also been hearing that the rates of kids with increasing BMIs and mental health issues are also becoming a major problem during the pandemic.
I don’t want to be all negative, and I want to let you know that our anti-racism task force has started meeting with 20 members and gave an interim report to our board in November. I want to thank the members of this task force for their willingness to help our chapter and our communities move forward to becoming anti-racist.
Finally, our entire pediatric community suffered a huge loss this fall when Dr. Michael Bendel Stenzel was killed in a car crash in which his wife (Dr. Ellen Bendel-Stenzel) and son were injured, but are thankfully, recovering. I worked with Michael for the better part of the last 2 decades, initially in his role as a pediatric nephrologist at the U of M and then more recently as a hospitalist at Children’s Minnesota. Michael was a kind, considerate, very thoughtful physician. We will miss him dearly. May his memory always be a blessing.
Sheldon Berkowitz, MD, FAAP