Seeking ‘herd immunity’ against the flu, East Baton Rouge students line up for vaccinations _lowres

Advocate staff photo by TRAVIS SPRADLING -- Our Lady of the Lake Children's Hospital pediatrician Dr. Roberta Vicari speaks Tuesday, at East Baton Rouge Parish public schools' kickoff of its annual flu vaccinations for school children.

As a pediatrician and president of the Louisiana Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, I applaud the recent opinion piece, “Candidates should focus on youngest Louisianans” by Libbie Sonnier-Netto. She highlighted that “Louisianans and our elected officials must make early care and education a priority in order to secure a strong future for our state.” I could not agree more.

It is critical for our children birth to age 3 to have access to high-quality early care and education. As a scientist, a physician, and especially as a parent, I can attest the research data is clear: prenatal development and early experiences affect the very development of the brain architecture, which provides the foundation for all future learning, behavior, and health.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has recognized the importance of early brain and child development by making it a strategic priority. The dramatic field of epigenetics is confirming that our children will inherit DNA changes being affected by many factors—and yes, they are influenced by health, by the environment, and by educational experiences.

Pediatricians are involved in helping to promote quality early care and education because it is where a large majority of children during these critical early years spend their time. Two-thirds of young children in Louisiana have both parents or their single parent in the workforce, and therefore must be cared for by someone else during their parents’ working hours. Yet, child care costs more than $7,500 a year in our state. Research of high-quality, intensive early care and education programs for low-income children confirm lasting positive effects such as improved cognition and social abilities.

In Louisiana, with 31% of children under the age of six living in poverty, we know day-to-day experiences affect the structural and functional development of a child’s brain, including ability to learn. Children begin to learn to regulate their emotions, solve problems, express their feelings, and organize their experiences at an early age and then use those skills when they arrive at school. The way to help mitigate the effects of poverty and ensure children enter into kindergarten ready to learn is for young children to have access to quality early learning environments.

The Louisiana Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics is a proud member of the Ready Louisiana Coalition, a bipartisan, statewide coalition seeking sufficient investment in quality, affordable early care and education in Louisiana. Sixty-two organizations, including Chambers of Commerce, United Ways, multiple advocacy and community organizations, have signed onto the Coalition’s Joint Statement of Support asking all candidates running for governor, the Legislature and the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to include a comprehensive plank providing for a substantial increase in investment in early care and education in their platforms. Currently, our state invests less than 1% of its state general funds on early care and education.

With our 2019 elections on the horizon, we encourage Louisianans to make sure all candidates for public office are informed and prioritize young children having access to quality, early care and education while their parents work.

Dr. Roberta Vicari

Louisiana Chapter, American Academy of Pediatrics

Baton Rouge