A celebratory atmosphere pervaded the start of the Board of Directors meeting in November, as leaders looked ahead to younger children being immunized against COVID-19 and the AAP advocacy, communication and research efforts that helped make that happen.
The Board reviewed efforts to protect children from COVID — days after the authorization of vaccines for 5- to 11-year-olds — and analyzed progress on other priorities, including equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) and digital innovation activities.
Board members also offered updates on strategic planning, advocacy, the policy statement process, member recruitment, fundraising and the new AAP Publications platform, https://publications.aap.org.
AAP President Lee Savio Beers, M.D., FAAP, remarked that after a week of conferences leading to the board meeting, it was fitting to observe the authorization and recommendation of the vaccine for younger children. Board members watched as the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices voted on Nov. 2 to recommend the vaccine for 5- to 11-year-olds.
“It just speaks to the really important role that we have all played in this pandemic and in ending the pandemic,” Dr. Beers told the group.
“There are real moments of hope, and that feels good,” said AAP CEO/Executive Vice President Mark Del Monte, J.D. “Isn’t it great to think of a future that is different than the place that we’ve been living in for the last year and a half?”
It was the first hybrid board meeting; nearly all members gathered at AAP headquarters, and the proceedings were virtual.
More efforts will be required to maximize vaccination of young children, Dr. Beers said. An initial rush of parents seeking to get their children vaccinated could be followed by a decline and leveling-off period.
“The challenge ahead of us is really both in the handling of this initial surge but also to sustain that outreach …” Dr. Beers said. She offered the AAP’s continued support in promoting the safety and efficacy of the vaccine nationally, via chapters and through other local efforts.
In his report, Del Monte recounted the work of the last 22 months to assist members and others in the fight against COVID: critical updates including interim guidance on 27 topics updated every 30 days; 28 town halls viewed by more than 20,000 people; 6,000 email responses to member questions; countless articles and campaigns to reach members and parents; and numerous grants and awards to tackle pandemic issues.
A special call-out acknowledged AAP Research, whose work to track weekly COVID statistics in U.S. children became the standard for both federal government agencies and media reports.
There also has been an unprecedented volume of media coverage of the AAP.
In addition, the AAP partnered with nine states and submitted 14 briefs to defend state and local universal masking policies against lawsuits trying to overturn them.
From the beginning, the AAP lobbied the federal government that primary care needed to be the focus of the rollout of vaccines for children and that plans needed to be in place to protect kids.
“It is hard to overstate the impact of AAP advocacy on every element of this pandemic,” James Baumberger, senior director of federal advocacy, told the board.
Despite the urgency of the pandemic, work on the strategic plan and other child health priorities continues, Del Monte said.
A timeline revealed AAP EDI activities, including related policy statements, internal staff efforts, content offerings on racial justice, continuing education, the Words Matter guidance on inclusive language, the Equity Agenda plus ongoing work of task forces and committees.
The recent emergency declaration on the mental health crisis in children and adolescents also acknowledged the impacts of disparities.
Partnerships with organizations such as the National Medical Association and American Board of Pediatrics seek to broaden EDI activities and encourage leadership diversity.
“We’re really focusing on the pipeline support, mentorship and sponsorship to bring trainees and early career physicians along as leaders of the AAP,” said Wendy S. Davis, M.D., FAAP, chair of the board’s equity committee. “We’ve got a lot of momentum going.”
On the policy front, Dennis Cooley, M.D., FAAP, chair of the board’s policy committee, said efforts are progressing to improve communication, format changes, prioritization of focus areas and timeliness.
Martha C. Middlemist, M.D., FAAP, chair of the board’s strategic planning committee, reported the board continues to discuss implementation of goal #6: Continuously improve AAP member activities in education, advocacy and policy by strengthening the structure and function of committees, councils and sections.
The board is tasked with developing a new strategic plan that will take effect Jan. 1, 2023.