More children may soon be eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. Parents should not be afraid for them to get it.
By Lauren Gambill, M.D.
It's anticipated that children ages 5 to 11 will be eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine through federal emergency use authorization as soon as this fall. That means now is the time for parents of young children to commit to getting their kid vaccinated as soon as a shot is available.
As a hospital-based pediatrician in Texas, I have seen COVID-19 quickly and violently ravage the lungs of children. With the emergence of the delta variant, I am now caring for dramatically increasing numbers of children hospitalized with COVID-19. But that's not the reason I am urging – begging, really – that parents get their young children vaccinated as soon as they are eligible.
In the last 18 months, I have been asked to solve impossible problems. I've been tasked with healing unhealable wounds. I've found myself at the limit of what I can do for our children as a pediatrician, and my own heart as a mother is aching.
I cannot truly help the 16-year-old who decided she could not go on living after the death of her mother – the only stable adult in her life – from COVID-19. I can flush the drug that somehow did not kill her out of her system. I can bandage the cuts across her wrists. But I cannot stop her from entering the foster system, and I cannot heal her pain.
And when I leave that room, I cannot "cure" the 3-year-old boy across the hall. He has been crying for weeks that his stomach hurts. After the workup comes back normal, the answer is incredibly simple and complicated all at once: He is hungry. In desperately trying to keep a roof over their heads, his parents have not been able to keep food on the table. I can feed him now, but where will his next meal come from? And the one after that?
Unprecedented numbers of children are suffering from the physical, emotional and social impacts of COVID-19 on our communities. Evidence suggests that depression and anxiety are climbing, and clinically, I've encountered rising substance use among adolescents. In late 2020, roughly one-third of parents reported their child's emotional or mental health was worse than before the pandemic. Among adults reporting income loss earlier this year, a third with children in their household were facing food insufficiency. More than 37,000 children have lost a parent due to COVID-19.
Children's suffering has occurred in relative silence, but the toll on their physical and emotional well-being has lifelong consequences that undoubtedly will negatively influence our communities for generations. And we, as parents, have the power to stop the suffering. We have the power to rewrite history by vaccinating our children.
Young kids can and do spread the virus that causes COVID-19. This means it will continue to spread and potentially mutate until we control it in children as well as adults. We will soon have one of the most important tools to do that.
As the parent of two children under the age of 5, I am often asked if I will vaccinate my kids when they are eligible. I understand the fear and uncertainty that comes with making any and all parenting decisions. I believe that parents fundamentally want the best for their children. It is our nature to be vigilant and protective. And just because I am a pediatrician does not mean that I do not think and overthink – and then change my mind – when it comes to decisions regarding my own kids.
But I do not ever recommend anything for my patients – your babies – that I would not lovingly do for my own. The COVID-19 vaccine is no different.
While the vaccine for COVID-19 was developed quickly, the science behind these shots is not new. A COVID-19 vaccine has now been approved for use in 16- to 17-year-olds for nearly nine months, and for more than three months in kids who are at least 12 years old. We now have months of real-world data telling us the vaccine is safe.
There have been reports recently that federal health officials have been examining a very uncommon side effect – myocarditis, which is inflammation of the heart muscle – following receipt of a COVID-19 vaccine. While these headlines are alarming, it is important to remember that myocarditis is a known complication of COVID-19. All evidence suggests that people are more likely to develop myocarditis from COVID-19 than from the vaccine. The fact that this is being investigated is wonderful, reassuring news and should not discourage anyone from vaccination.
When vaccination rates first climbed among adults, there was hope. Babies and toddlers born during isolation met aunts, uncles and cousins for the first time. Children were able to hug the necks of their grandparents again. This brief glimpse of normality was healing for so many, especially our children. But then vaccination rates plateaued, and the delta variant swiftly ripped this glimmer of hope away from us.
Despite the efficacy and safety of the COVID-19 vaccines, vaccination rates in kids lag behind adults. Less than half of 16- to 17-year-olds and only a third of 12- to 15-year-olds had been fully vaccinated as of late August. With many of the nation's children back to school in-person and wide variability in mask use, it is critical that we increase vaccination numbers for adolescents and get as many 5- to 11-year-olds vaccinated as quickly as possible when the time comes.
I went into pediatrics because I believe children are the most incredible of humans. Becoming a parent has only proved this to me a million times over. They are resilient. They are putting on brave faces, and they are surviving this pandemic – but they need us to end it.
This article was originally posted by U.S. News. Read it here.
Thank you to TPS Board and Committee Member Dr. Lauren Gambill for your advocacy!