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I Couldnt Wait to Get My Kids Vaccinated Against COVID-19. Heres Why.

Curated by Claudia Shannon / Research Scientist / ishonest

My 7-year-old received the first dose of his COVID-19 vaccine last week. There were some cheers and some tears (mostly mine, of happiness). Closing in on a year after the first vaccines began to be rolled out to health care workers, almost every group is now eligible for a dose. (Trials for children between six months and four years of age are still ongoing.)

To date, more than 6 million children in the U.S. have had a confirmed COVID-19 infection, and while the risk of serious infections and death is lower in children than adults, more than 65,000 children have been hospitalized per CDC data. At least 5,500 of them have suffered from multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C), and 48 deaths have been reported from this condition. Seven hundred children have died from COVID-19 in the United States. Furthermore, kids can readily transmit the virus to others, meaning vaccination can protect not only the individual child but the larger community.

The waves of rejoicing and relief

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My youngest had been anxiously awaiting this day. His older cousins were able to be vaccinated over the summer; his brother and sister (both over 18) received the vaccines in early spring, when my partner and I did. So he’s long been the odd one out in our immediate family, and could not be more excited to get his COVID-19 vaccines.

Many other children (and their caregivers) have the same response.

“He was a champ,” Eric Green, Ph.D., an associate professor of the practice of global health at Duke University with a 7- and 3-year-old, says of his oldest, who received the vaccine recently. “Happy to get his lollipop and do his part. Thankfully no side effects in the first 40 hours post.”

Iowa pediatrician Amy Shriver, M.D., was able to get her 13-year-old vaccinated over the summer, but her 10-year-old was not yet eligible. “When the COVID-19 vaccine was approved for children 12 years and older, I was thrilled,” she says. “When she got her first vaccine, I burst into tears of joy and relief.”

The relentless nature of pandemic parenting—especially as a health professional

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For many who are on the front lines of COVID-19 response or research, the last year and half has been beyond difficult. Jillian Carmichael, Ph.D., is a virologist and mother of 2 children, ages 7 and 4; living in Queens during the New York City outbreak in 2020 in a 650-square-foot apartment, her husband and children spent 100 days in Oklahoma with family during 2020 while Dr. Carmichael stayed behind in the city to carry out research.

Dr. Shriver’s family feels blessed to have stayed healthy during the pandemic, but it came at the expense of her children’s activities. “My kids know that when you are the child of a pediatrician, you are going to follow ALL the recommendations," she says. "So, we stayed at home. We practiced social distancing. My girls stopped gymnastics and softball. As the pandemic stretched on, I started to feel the almost grief-like sadness of watching my children miss a year of their childhood.” Despite theme nights at home, lots of outdoor trips, and Zoom holidays, it was difficult.

I’m lucky that my child’s school has a mask mandate, which allowed me to send him back in person after one and a half years at home. While many areas had mask mandates throughout the latter half of 2020 and through the winter 2021 surge, these were gone in many states by the summer of 2021—and have not returned despite the summer and fall surge in cases. I live in rural Ohio where masks in public places are rare, and I am often the only one wearing one.

In Dr. Shriver’s state of Iowa, mask mandates have been banned by the governor (though that is undergoing legal challenges). But a voluntary mask policy has resulted in fewer masked children: “By the start of the 2020-2021 school season, less than 20% of children at my daughters’ schools were wearing masks, including elementary schools where no children were vaccinated,” says Dr. Shriver. Her children continue to wear masks.

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Dr. Chapple notes how the lifting of mask mandates and other protective measures put the unvaccinated—including all children under the age of 12—at risk. “I saw how the delta variant impacted all unvaccinated people, regardless of age. I saw how mitigations were lifted, leaving children most vulnerable,” she says. “I saw how communities reported vaccination rates, leaving those ineligible out of the denominator, as if their vaccination status didn’t matter or impact community health. I needed my children to have an added layer of protection, and as children of an epidemiologist, they wanted the same.”

In contrast, in New York City where Dr. Carmichael lives, she has been able to have a bit more normalcy due to their strict requirements for masks and vaccines. “I have felt comfortable taking my kids to indoor museums, the library, and the climbing gym even though they aren’t vaccinated yet,” she says.

The undeniable benefits of vaccinating children against COVID-19

Dr. Chapple notes that the only concern she has with the trial data is on the issue of myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle), which has been identified as a rare event following vaccination, especially in males in their teens and 20s. But the risk of myocarditis from a COVID-19 vaccine is low compared to that of one from a COVID-19 infection. “I do wish the trials were larger so I could answer the question about myocarditis more confidently,” Dr. Chapple says. “However, I am comfortable knowing that the risk of it from the vaccine is definitely lower than the risk of it from the virus. So with that in mind, I will champion it to my community and my family, while I wait on hard data to become available.”

As a pediatrician, Dr. Shriver welcomes such conversations. “I always take the time to ask parents what their concerns are and just listen. Then I try to validate their concerns. It’s okay to have questions. It’s okay to feel unsure or nervous. It’s best to get information from a trusted health professional.”

If you’re having this kind of conversation with your child’s pediatrician, Dr. Shriver suggests also checking to see if they’re due for routine vaccinations that they may have missed during the pandemic, including the influenza vaccine. (And yes, it’s okay to get the influenza and COVID-19 vaccines at the same time!)

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