Q&A: Pediatrician talks worn-out workers, rejected funds, and vaccinating kids

By: - November 2, 2021 5:41 am
A doctor with face shield

A combination of the more-contagious delta variant and cold weather driving indoor gatherings has led to an average of 1,000 new infections a day and nearly 400 COVID-19 hospitalizations. (Getty Images)

With the first newly approved COVID-19 vaccines for children likely headed to New Hampshire this week, state officials are urging parents to make an appointment with their health care providers or visit one of nearly 150 pharmacy sites that have committed to vaccinating 5- to 11-year-olds. 

The news, delivered Thursday, came with a caveat: The $27 million in federal funding recently rejected by the Executive Council – which was going to bring much-needed reinforcements and support to health care providers – may mean parents encounter a delay.

“Instead of right now where you can call and maybe get an appointment tomorrow, you’re going to get an appointment in two weeks,” Health and Human Services Commissioner Lori Shibinette said Thursday at a COVID-19 update. “It’s still going to be there. You’re just going to have to wait a little longer.”

In the meantime, state officials are encouraging parents with children to talk through their questions and concerns with their health care providers. Pediatrician Dr. Holly Mintz, the chief medical officer of ambulatory care at The Elliot, has been having those conversations since the vaccine became available for children 12-18, and will continue welcoming questions and concerns.

“Anything that we can do to help people better understand the vaccine and the safety of the vaccine, I’m happy to be a part of,” she said. 

The Bulletin caught up with Mintz recently for a wide-ranging conversation about reassuring nervous parents, combating vaccine misinformation, and watching state officials turn away millions of dollars that overworked and worn-out health care providers were counting on. Mintz’s answers have been edited for clarity.

What guidance are you giving parents nervous about vaccinating their children?

Holly Mintz
Dr. Holly Mintz

I explain the science in very simple terms, and I have found it helpful to share that I have absolutely had my children vaccinated. I tell (parents) that I wouldn’t give my child anything that I wouldn’t recommend to them. 

And sometimes it’s helpful to share data about what the effects of not getting vaccinated (against any disease, not COVID-19 specifically) are. Those are sometimes called scare tactics, but we are actually presenting facts. To say: “I have this seen disease. I’ve seen children die from these viruses.”

I think a lot of parents are eager to get their children vaccinated because a year-and-a-half of remote or hybrid learning, social distancing, and canceled extracurricular activities have taken such a toll on kids’ mental health. Having (kids) isolated was the right thing to do, but it absolutely had a deleterious effect on children. I’ve never seen anything like that.

We know the way through this pandemic is vaccination. 

Women who are pregnant or plan to be have expressed concerns about the vaccine’s effects on a baby and fertility. How do you talk through those fears?

I tell them the facts. There has never been any information that vaccines affect fertility. When a pregnant woman is immunized, the immunity passes through to her baby and continues for six months after delivery. 

I think it’s really important to respect people’s opinions. But I think it’s our job as health care providers to provide them accurate information. I am not interested in coercing someone to make a decision they don’t want to make. I am interested in giving them accurate information.

You’ve practiced in underdeveloped countries where the vaccine is hard to get and here, where about 40 percent of eligible residents have chosen not get vaccinated themselves or had their children ages 12 to 18 get vaccinated.  Can you contrast the two experiences?

When you have access to health care, it’s sometimes taken for granted. That’s not true in underdeveloped countries. Here, we know that if we do get sick, we will get care. 

This is the first time in my life that people have no interest in hearing what we (health care providers) have to say. It’s almost incredulous to me that such a large number of people aren’t even interested in having that conversation. 

What does practicing medicine in New Hampshire look like these days?

I wish the people who rejected (the $27 million in federal) funds had talked to my staff. I would love for them to spend five minutes talking to my staff and see how tired they are. It’s hard for me to understand and comprehend.

A lot of people want to get vaccines (flu and COVID-19) in their physician’s office. 

During the flu vaccines in the past, we designated someone to do flu shots every five minutes, all day long and on the weekends. This is the first year we can’t offer that because we don’t have the staff. They are already working weekends and incredibly long weeks.

The health care system is struggling to stay afloat providing the amount of care we need to provide. I feel like every time I think we are getting somewhere, there is more of a surge. Serious illness is preventable. 

I wish those who are not vaccinated would think about this as a public health effort. The more people who can be vaccinated are vaccinated, the more likely we are to protect those who cannot get vaccinated. 

A graphic on COVID vaccination locations
(Vaccines.nh.gov screenshot)

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Annmarie Timmins
Annmarie Timmins

Senior reporter Annmarie Timmins is a New Hampshire native who covered state government, courts, and social justice issues for the Concord Monitor for 25 years. During her time with the Monitor, she won a Nieman Fellowship to study journalism and mental health courts at Harvard for a year. She has taught journalism at the University of New Hampshire and writing at the Nackey S. Loeb School of Communications. Email: [email protected]