Jerrold Eichner, MD, FAAP
WCAAP Legislative Committee
WCAAP Member Engagement Committee
The AAP has held a Legislative Conference each year from 1988 to 2019 to educate pediatricians on advocacy, particularly legislative advocacy, and to arrange meetings with legislators and/or their health care staff members to advocate for legislation that would benefit children and families. It was interrupted in 2020 by the COVID-19 pandemic. The 2020 conference was cancelled to be replaced this year by the virtual AAP Advocacy Conference April 11-13. As with the Legislative Conference it was sponsored by the AAP Committee on Federal Government Affairs and organized and arranged by the staff of the Washington, DC office of the AAP. The conference was held totally virtually with 720 attendees. This was a record number as past Legislative Conferences had 300-400 attendees in D.C. As before the purpose of the conference is to educate pediatricians on advocacy and to arrange meetings with legislators in the attendees’ respective districts and states (for Senator meetings.)
There were over 20 members of the Washington Chapter of the AAP at the Advocacy Conference. The Section on Senior Members is the sponsor of an Advocacy Initiative to enlist senior members with advocacy experience to engage early career pediatricians and trainees into advocacy and provide skills and guidance to them. There is a pilot program ongoing with the Washington Chapter as one of five chapters involved. Attendees from Washington in these three sections attended the conference and will have follow up in the near future to develop the pilot program on advocacy for the chapter.
Plenary sessions included “A conversation with Stacey Abrams, JD, MPA,” who is currently chair of Fair Fight, an organization dedicated to fighting voter suppression. She is an engaging, passionate, and articulate speaker who spoke directly to pediatricians using her mantra: “Educate, Advocate and Agitate” as the outline of her comments.
Another plenary session was given by Pritesh Gandhi, MD, MPH, Chief Medical Officer of the Department of Homeland Security titled “Perspectives on the Border.” He discussed the trauma of the immigration journey including at the border. He urged pediatricians to use our voice and our training to speak for children and to fight for children.
There were three sessions on building advocacy skills including advocacy for subspecialists, state level advocacy using anti-transgender legislation as an example, and social media and advocacy. Attendees had the choice to attend one of these three. Likewise, there were four sessions on current issues for children: children’s coverage and access to care, the changing landscape for immigration policy, addressing the child health impact of climate change, and U.S. leadership of global child health. Attendees could attend one of these four. One of the benefits of the virtual conference is that the sessions were all recorded so could be viewed for a time following the conference so one could “attend” all of the sessions.
On the third day meetings were scheduled with each attendee’s representative’s office and the state delegations with their Senators’ offices. The meeting with Senator Murray’s office went as scheduled but the meeting with Senator Cantwell’s office needed to be postponed for two days. The subject for each of the meetings was to discuss the Strengthening the Vaccines for Children Act of 2021 (HR2347). We are attempting to get as many as possible to sign as co-sponsors of the bill. Attendees were given information on the bill and talking points prior those meetings. It also allowed attendees to develop relationships with congressional staffs and opened the door for further conversations on the many issues concerning children and families.