WASHINGTON — Anthony Fauci, MD, former director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, reminded pediatricians gathered here for their annual meeting that they play a key role in public health.
While there’s been concern about an erosion of trust in science, Fauci said, the “reservoir of trust that you as pediatricians have built every day increases our chance to realize the full potential of what we have to offer our children, our young adults, and in fact everyone throughout the world.”
Mostly, that’s “proven vaccines and medicines that we already have to keep our people healthy, as well as the anticipation of the promise of the development of new medical tools in the future,” said Fauci, who spoke during the Monday plenary session at the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) annual meeting here.
Fauci was at the meeting to receive an Honorary Fellow designation, which, according to the AAP, “represents the highest distinction and expression of gratitude by the Academy.”
Sandy Chung, MD, president of the AAP, presented Fauci with the honorary designation, noting that “pediatricians are no strangers to the vast misinformation and disinformation that became increasingly prevalent during the last few years. And we’re so grateful for Dr. Fauci’s steadfast leadership, guiding our nation’s response in that especially trying time.”
Fauci, who is also the former White House chief medical advisor to the Biden administration, said he was “truly humbled and honored” to accept the honorary fellowship.
“When I was first contacted about whether I’d be willing to come here to receive this, my thought was, ‘are you kidding — of course,’ for a number of reasons,” he continued.
“One, for the great deal of respect that I have for, not only your organization, but for the entire field of pediatrics, but also to take this opportunity — which I don’t get to do often in a venue such as this — to really sincerely thank you for what you have done throughout your entire careers as pediatricians,” Fauci said. “But particularly, you’ve been the shining light over the last 3 years — 3 years, 9 months, and 42 days, but who’s counting — of the COVID outbreak.”
Following Fauci’s remarks, the plenary session featured presentations on issues currently affecting pediatric practice, including the pediatric mental health crisis and the legal landscape of abortion.
Joan Jeung, MD, MPH, of the University of California San Francisco, detailed how relationships can be leveraged to address a national emergency in child and adolescent mental health.
“Children exposed to four or more ACEs [adverse childhood experiences] have roughly double the odds of being diagnosed with asthma, five times the odds of being diagnosed with ADHD, about four times the odds of facing teen pregnancy or depression, and 32 times the odds of having any learning or behavior problem,” Jeung said. “But we are in this because we know that adversity is not destiny.”
“The scientific literature around what promotes resilience in children shows us that the children who go on to do well have had at least one stable and committed caring parent or other adult caregiver in their lives,” she noted. “Relationships are so important that we can think of them as a vital sign. Just as we measure heart rate, blood pressure, height, and weight because they tell us important things about the state of that child’s health and trajectory that they’re on, we should also look at the state of caregiving relationships around the child.”
This involves partnering with patients and their caregivers, and creating a plan together, she explained, as well as having empathy and using listening as an intervention.
In the last presentation, Katie Watson, JD, of Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, noted that 12% of abortion patients are 19 years old or younger, while 59% are mothers. “Many moms and kids in your office have needed, or will need, an abortion,” she said.
So, what can pediatricians do?
“Well, first of all, maximize flourishing within the laws,” Watson said. “And what that means, of course, is doubling down on health education or contraceptive access, and then when … unwanted pregnancies occur, focus on counseling and referrals.”
“And then also, I urge you to work towards changing the law to maximize family flourishing,” she added. “We don’t agree on abortion, that’s okay. But in your role as healthcare providers focusing on the ethics of access.”