The biggest barrier to using standing orders for childhood immunizations is concern that patients will receive the wrong vaccine, according to a survey of pediatricians published in Pediatrics.
The other top reasons pediatricians give for not using standing orders for vaccines are concerns that parents may want to talk to the doctor about the vaccine before their child gets it, and a belief that the doctor should be the one who personally recommends a vaccine for their patient.
But with severe drops in vaccination rates resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, standing orders may be a valuable tool for ensuring children get their vaccines on time, suggested lead author, Jessica Cataldi, MD, of the University of Colorado and Children’s Hospital Colorado in Aurora.
“As we work to bring more families back to their pediatrician’s office for well-child checks, standing orders are one process that can streamline the visit by saving providers time and increasing vaccine delivery,” she said in an interview. “We will also need use standing orders to support different ways to get children their immunizations during times of social distancing. This could take the form of drive-through immunization clinics or telehealth well-child checks that are paired with a quick immunization-only visit.”
The American Academy of Pediatrics issued guidance April 14 that emphasizes the need to prioritize immunization of children through 2-years-old.
Paul A. Offit, MD, director of the Vaccine Education Center and an attending physician in the division of infectious diseases at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, agreed that it’s essential children do not fall behind on the recommended schedule during the pandemic.
“It’s important not to have greater collateral damage from this COVID-19 pandemic by putting children at increased risk from other infections that are circulating, like measles and pertussis,” he said, noting that nearly 1,300 measles cases and more than 15,000 pertussis cases occurred in the United States in 2019.
It’s important “not to delay those primary vaccines because it’s hard to catch up,” he said in an interview
Although “standing orders” may go by other names in non–inpatient settings, the researchers defined them in their survey as “a written or verbal policy that persons other than a medical provider, such as a nurse or medical assistant, may consent and vaccinate a person without speaking with the physician or advanced care provider first.” Further, the “vaccine may be given before or after a physician encounter or in the absence of a physician encounter altogether.”
Research strongly suggests that standing orders for childhood vaccines are cost-effective and increase immunization rates, the authors noted. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, its Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the federal National Vaccine Advisory Committee all recommend using standing orders to improve vaccination access and rates.
The authors sought to understand how many pediatricians use standing orders and what reasons stop them from doing so. During June-September 2017, they sent out 471 online and mail surveys to a nationally representative sample of AAP members who spent at least half their time in primary care.
The 372 pediatricians who completed the survey made up a response rate of 79%, with no differences in response based on age, sex, years in practice, practice setting, region or rural/urban location.
More than half the respondents (59%) used standing orders for childhood immunizations. Just over a third of respondents (36%) said they use standing orders for all routinely recommended vaccines, and 23% use them for some vaccines.
Among those who did not use standing orders, 68% cited the concern that patients would get the incorrect vaccine by mistake as a barrier to using them. That came as a surprise to Dr Offit, who would expect standing orders to reduce the likelihood of error.
“The standing order should make things a little more foolproof so that you’re less likely to make a mistake,” Dr Offit said.
No studies have shown that vaccine errors occur more often in clinics that use standing orders for immunizations, but the question merits continued monitoring, Dr Cataldi said.
“It is important for any clinic that is new to the use of standing orders to provide adequate education to providers and other staff about when and how to use standing orders, and to always leave room for staff to bring vaccination questions to the provider,” Dr Cataldi told this newspaper
Nearly as many physicians (62%) believed that families would want to speak to the doctor about a vaccine before getting it, and 57% of respondents who didn’t use standing orders believed they should be the one who recommends a vaccine to their patient’s parents.
All three of these reasons also ranked highest as barriers in responses from all respondents, including those who use standing orders. But those who didn’t use them were significantly more likely to cite these reasons (P less than .0001).
Since the survey occurred in 2017, however, it’s possible the pandemic and the rapid increase in telehealth as a result may influence perceptions moving forward.
“With provider concerns that standing orders remove physicians from the vaccination conversation, it may be that those conversations become less crucial as some families may start to value and accept immunizations more as a result of this pandemic,” Dr Cataldi said. “Or for families with vaccine questions, telehealth might support those conversations with a provider well.”
After adjusting for potential confounders, the only practice or physician factor significantly associated with not using standing orders for vaccines was physicians’ having a higher “physician responsibility score.” Doctors with these higher scores also were marginally more likely to make independent decisions about vaccines than counterparts working at practices where system-level decisions occur.
“Perhaps physicians who feel more personal responsibility about their role in vaccination are more likely to choose practice settings where they have more independent decision-making ability,” the authors wrote. “Alternatively, knowing the level of decision-making about vaccines in the practice may influence the amount of personal responsibility that pediatricians feel about their role in vaccine delivery.”
Again, attitudes may have shifted since the coronavirus pandemic began. The biggest risk to children in terms of immunizations is not getting them, Dr Offit said.
“The parents are scared, and the doctors are scared,” he said. “They feel that going to a doctor’s office is going to a concentrated area where they’re more likely to pick up this virus.”
He’s expressed uncertainty about whether standing orders could play a role in alleviating that anxiety. But Dr Cataldi suggests it’s possible.
“I think standing orders will be important to increasing vaccination rates during a pandemic as they can be used to support delivery of vaccines through public health departments and through vaccine-only nurse visits,” she said.
The research was funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The authors had no relevant financial disclosures.
SOURCE: Cataldi J et al. Pediatrics. 2020 Apr;e20191855.