Communicating in a Crisis

Facing a daily demand from both pediatricians and families for updated information on how to care for children during the pandemic, AAP revolutionized the way it communicated with pediatricians, parents and the public. 

As new evidence emerged over the course of the pandemic, AAP transformed the way it communicated, rapidly scaling up frequency of communications and diversifying the ways it shared information to reach as many people in as many ways as possible. AAP’s crisis response team met every day to determine when and how to communicate, and what to say to meet the needs of the moment. These plans included frequent messages from AAP leaders to members, sometimes daily, breaking news coverage, media interviews on national outlets, public service announcements, social media campaigns and other communications initiatives.  

Covering the News

In January 2020, the AAP issued its first guidance about a “severe respiratory illness in patients who recently traveled to China where there is an outbreak of pneumonia of unknown etiology.” It was reported in AAP News, the Academy’s member news magazine. 

Over the next two years, the AAP wrote more than 500 news updates on the COVID-19 pandemic, advising on everything from case counts and new policies, to best practices on stemming the spread of the virus. 

Focusing on Parents and Families

Meanwhile, the AAP’s website for families,, published more than 900 pieces of content for parents in English and Spanish, including articles explaining how the virus impacted children’s health, symptom checkers, FAQs that featured individual pediatrician expert voices, guidance on testing and vaccines, and how parents can best support their children during remote learning and other stressors of the pandemic. As the pandemic progressed, additional articles were published by AAP experts on such topics as maintaining childhood milestones throughout the pandemic, indoor play ideas, dealing with defiant behavior, and coping with ADHD. "Ask the Pediatrician” articles and other first-person accounts helped build awareness and provide a sense of community during trying times. The reach and impact of this rapid-fire content creation effort was evident in the massive increase in traffic to soared, which exceeded 10 million visitors per month during the height of the pandemic.   

In addition to articles on the website, AAP reached parents with animated science explainer videos, Facebook and Instagram live events with pediatricians, email newsletters, and text messages.

Giving a Voice to Pediatricians

Pediatricians were on the front lines of pandemic response, living through history and lifting up their voices to share their experiences. Sharing their own experiences of how the pandemic dramatically transformed both their clinical practice and their personal lives helped build a compelling series of blog posts on AAP Voices, the Academy’s member blog on From confronting food insecurity, racism, vaccine hesitancy, and obesity, to sharing clinical experiences, physicians gave deeply personal accounts of the new reality they faced as physicians. They shared stories of counseling new moms struggling with social isolation. Of setting up tents in the parking lot, calling patients on the phone, and trying to fit in the well-child care that is so vital to catch problems early, such as vitamin D deficiency in a toddler. And sometimes, about how it feels to be a “forgotten soldier” in the midst of an overwhelming focus on adult medicine.  

In June 2020, the AAP launched a new podcast, Pediatrics On Call. In a friendly, accessible style, hosts Joanna Parga-Belinkie, MD, FAAP and David Hill, MD, FAAP, covered research breakthroughs, guidance on schools, masks and infection prevention, and the development of the COVID-19 vaccines for children. Alongside news about the pandemic, the podcast brought members news and interviews about new AAP policy statements, research in Pediatrics, and a series of interviews with pediatricians sharing their career journeys. One physician guest reflected on how masks affected communication and empathy during her young daughter’s cancer treatment. Other episodes featured Dr. Michael Bell, deputy director of the CDC’s Division of Healthcare Quality Promotion, who shared the latest science about infection control and COVID-19. 

“We tried to really make sure people had the information and the tools they needed to respond. If we would start to hear from our pediatricians that there were needs that they had, we would work to meet those needs. We would work to develop materials. We would work to get them things that would help them in their clinical decision-making, but also in their practice management. We helped support them in this period of time where there was increased need but drastically decreased resources.”

- Dr. Lee Beers. 2021 president of the American Academy of Pediatrics and a professor of pediatrics at Children's National Hospital in Washington, D.C.

Staying in Constant Contact

At the start of the pandemic, then-AAP President Sally Goza, MD, FAAP, issued near-daily letters to members via email. In these she shared updates on rapidly evolving clinical guidance, data on infections among children, and vital information about how pediatricians could apply for financial assistance to keep their practices open. They also conveyed all that was still unknown, and offered support to pediatricians navigating an unprecedented time. Direct email communication from AAP leaders remained a critical way AAP communicated with members throughout the pandemic. AAP also increased the frequency of member newsletters like AAP News On Call, shared frequent messages on social media platforms, and created webinars and other educational content for more in-depth exploration of critical topics like mental health, infection prevention and vaccine counseling.  

Convening Virtually

Without the ability to meet in person, AAP got creative. Video messages from AAP leaders, virtual meetings allowing pediatricians to gather safely, virtual events with federal officials like the U.S. Surgeon General, social media live events and public service announcements all helped people stay connected and informed.  

In June 2021 U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, alongside then-president Dr. Lee Beers and other pediatrician panelists, discussed COVID-19 vaccines, disinformation and mental health in an AAP Town Hall with more than 1,500 participants.   

Early on in the pandemic when parents were home with their children, concerned about the impact of the virus, the impact of virtual learning, when it would be safe to see grandparents again, AAP decided to host weekly Facebook Live events with pediatrician experts to answer parents’ questions live during the lunch hour. These events were popular, and served as a place of reassurance and evidence-based guidance for parents during an especially uncertain time.    

After having to cancel the March 2020 advocacy conference due to the pandemic, a virtual conference in spring 2021 meant hundreds more participants could join, and speakers like Stacy Abrams gave powerful motivational speeches to a group of pediatricians determined to make a difference for child health even though they could not walk the halls of the Capitol themselves. More than 720 pediatricians, pediatric medical subspecialists, pediatric surgical subspecialists, trainees and medical students joined the first virtual AAP Advocacy Conference from their respective screens with one goal: to speak up for children. Representatives hailed from all 50 states, Puerto Rico and Washington DC, and participated in over 360 virtual congressional appointments.   

In September 2020, the AAP launched a biweekly Town Hall video series aimed at connecting physicians with the latest information about COVID-19. A panel of experts, including pediatric infectious disease specialists, school health experts, developmental-behavioral pediatricians and others, gathered to answer questions submitted by AAP members and to share the latest guidance emerging from both government authorities and the AAP.  

In April 2020, AAP also began weekly Chapter Chats, convening chapter leaders to update them on the latest COVID data, share perspectives from different regions about how the pandemic was playing out, and connect with and support one another. This weekly meeting proved to be such a valuable virtual touchpoint that they continue today. 

Using Video to Spur Action

The AAP also used video in creative ways to make an impact in digital spaces. Its YouTube channel helped answer parents’ frequently asked questions about vaccines, shared tips on infection prevention, and how best to support their children’s emotional health during the pandemic. Produced in both English and Spanish, AAP’s videos explained the safety of the new COVID-19 vaccine, urged parents to follow recommended vaccine schedules and explained vaccine side effects, among other topics.  

In 2022, the AAP partnered with the CDC, the Ad Council, and the Sesame Workshop to produce a public service announcement featuring Big Bird getting a COVID-19 vaccine to encourage vaccination for children. 

Creating Targeted Campaigns

In addition to leveraging internal channels, the AAP launched broadcast and social media campaigns to help build awareness and spur action in key areas.  

In May of 2020, realizing that many families had put off routine doctor visits, the AAP launched the #CallYourPediatrician campaign, using empathy and humor to connect with parents whose lives had been upended by the pandemic. Social media graphics, videos and messages encouraged parents to include a call with the pediatrician on their to-do list for the day. 

In April 2021, the AAP launched its “Superhero Moment” campaign, a series of TV public service announcements designed to encourage parents to get their children caught up on their immunizations. Created in response to the troubling dips in immunization rates for vaccines to protect against contagious, preventable illnesses like measles, mumps and polio, the ads portrayed parents who take their children to be immunized as superheroes. The ads were viewed by more than 36 million people on television and social media.  

Advocating for Immunizations

As COVID-19 vaccines for adolescents and children eventually became available in 2021, the AAP launched a vaccination campaign specifically designed to increase awareness of the vaccines and encourage parents to get their children vaccinated. AAP distributed public service announcements, articles, animated videos, social media animations and messages and other communications to answer parents’ questions about the vaccine and encourage them to talk with their pediatricians.  

Then-AAP President Dr. Lee Beers also visited the White House to answer children’s questions about the vaccine, and then-AAP President Dr. Moira Szilagyi participated in a national PSA through the US Department of Health and Human Services with other presidents of medical organizations to shore up vaccine confidence the following year. 

“One of the earliest and unfortunate messages that was being delivered about COVID-19 was that children were unaffected by it or that it didn't harm children. And so we found ourselves as the leading national spokesperson for children’s health in the position of trying to tell the story of children in a way that nobody else was.”

- Mark Del Monte, CEO of the American Academy of Pediatrics

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American Academy of Pediatrics