This spring, the White House reached out to ACOG to engage us in the administration’s national COVID-19 vaccination efforts, recognizing our organization’s leadership in advocating for pregnant people to have access to the COVID-19 vaccines and educating health care workers and the public at large about the importance of these vaccines. As an organization, we are ready and willing to help and build on our existing efforts—and mindful, too, of the challenging realities that confront our physicians and patients. The pandemic context in which my ACOG presidency began was—and remains—nuanced and uncertain. That said, it is clear to me that we as obstetrician–gynecologists can contribute meaningfully to this unprecedented vaccination effort.
The timing is critical. Each of us has surely felt the optimistic, even celebratory, mood. Rates of COVID-19 infection and deaths are down in the United States, and vaccine development and efficacy have been successful beyond what many of us dared hope. Major cities have reopened in time for summer dining, live music, and tourism. Many sporting venues are now open for maximum capacity. Yet those of us in health care can’t evade the undercurrent of anxiety. The COVID-19 variants present a daunting, ongoing threat. The vaccination rate has slowed well before herd immunity has been reached: the CDC is reporting that 150 million people in the United States—just 45% of the population—are fully vaccinated, with the Delta variant accounting for one in 10 U.S. cases. Some communities report low vaccination rates and high rates of vaccine hesitancy and skepticism.
During this heralded “return to normalcy,” public health experts have emphasized COVID-19 vaccines as the key. Vaccination is how we dramatically boost individual and community resilience in the face of this virus, which is likely to become a long-term threat. Vaccination against COVID-19 may become part of routine care.
For many of us, supporting the COVID-19 vaccination effort may be as simple as connecting with our patients. U.S. Surgeon General Vice Admiral Vivek H. Murthy, MD, MPH, emphasized the role of physicians in his address to the 2021 ACOG Annual Clinical and Scientific Meeting, saying, “More than 80% of people say that they would turn to their doctor or to another health care professional who cares for them to actually make a decision about whether or not they should get a vaccine.” We know well from years of data that this is true: a recommendation from a trusted clinician is a key factor in a patient’s decision to accept a vaccine.
So, what can we do? We can raise the topic of COVID-19 vaccination with our patients. We can acknowledge that getting vaccinated is a personal decision, answer questions, and share information about local vaccine providers. We can distribute facts and key messages. We can become vaccinators. ACOG has developed resources to assist us in all of these efforts: the COVID-19 Vaccines: Tools for Your Practice and Your Patients tool kit contains messaging and flyers that can help you and your patients—including those who are pregnant, breastfeeding, or planning to become pregnant—discuss vaccination. We have also developed a step-by-step guide on how to become a COVID-19 vaccinator. Doing what we can to contribute to vaccination efforts is critical, as physicians are essential in expanding our capacity to manage this virus and save lives.
COVID-19 is not a glitch that we as clinicians or our patients can wait out. I encourage you to join me in the effort to lead our country more swiftly to ending this pandemic. Because obstetrician–gynecologists care, I am optimistic that we will be successful. Together, we can make a difference.