Angela Markert is vaccinated against COVID-19, but when it comes to vaccinating her five-year-old, Tygen, she’s hesitant.
“As a guardian, it is my job to keep him safe and do what is in his best interest,” she said. “How do I know which choice that is, if there isn’t enough anecdotal evidence for his age group?”
Markert isn’t alone. A study of nearly 2,000 American parents published this month in the journal Pediatrics found that 42 percent were somewhat or very unlikely to vaccinate their children; compared to 46 percent of parents who were somewhat or very likely to vaccinate. Twelve percent of parents said they were unsure. The FDA is expected to give emergency use authorization for the Pfizer vaccine for children ages five and older soon, but many parents are still wary of signing their children up when the vaccine becomes available. That has left healthcare workers scrambling to address the most common concerns from parents.
“Vaccination is the best way to protect your child and family,” said Dr. Erik Shessler, a pediatrician at the Children’s Hospital at Dartmouth in Lebanon, where Tygen sees specialists.
The pressure Markert feels over the vaccine decision is amplified by the fact that Tygen is her biological grandson. She worries about making a wrong decision and having that impact her custody.
“Add that to the societal pressures on either side of the vaccine debate, and it’s a bit overwhelming over here,” said Markert.
It’s normal for parents to feel especially cautious when making medical decisions for their children, said Shessler.
“Naturally, families are often most protective of the youngest members of the family,” he said.
That can lead some parents to delay the decision to vaccinate, Dr. Christine Arsnow, New Hampshire vice president for the New Hampshire chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics and a pediatrician with Concord Hospital said on a recent episode of The State We’re In.
“We have a bias that it feels harder to do something than to sit back and see what happens, whereas in reality that in and of itself is a risk,” Arsnow said.
The Collaborative spoke with Shessler, Arsnow and other health workers to address concerns that parents have and prevalent myths about vaccinating children.
Myth: Kids don’t get sick from COVID
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, kids are less likely to get COVID than adults, but there have still been cases of serious illness and deaths. Last month, children made up nearly 25 percent of new COVID cases in New Hampshire. Children can also pass COVID, even when they are asymptomatic.
“The surest way to protect children and our communities from the harmful effects of COVID-19 is to get the vaccination,” Shessler said.
Dr. Holly Mintz, a pediatrician and chief medical officer for ambulatory care services at Elliot Health System in Manchester, said that getting kids vaccinated helps ensure that schools and extracurricular activities can stay open. That, in turn, supports children’s well-being.
“It’s imperative for [kids’] mental health and functioning to attend school and do the things they normally would do to affect their health and development,” Mintz said.
Concern: It’s a case of the government impacting medical decisions
Many people, particularly in communities of color, have a distrust of the government and medical system. Dr. Deborah Opramolla, a member of New Hampshire Public Health Association’s COVID-19 task force, has heard people compare the vaccine to the abusive Tuskegee syphilis study, where Black men were denied treatment by federal researchers.
“That, to me, is a misunderstanding of history,” Opramolla said.
Past medical abuses have been about denying care, she said; the COVID vaccine makes health care justice available to everyone.
“Social justice work is about accessibility: making sure that vaccines are available to everyone: documented, undocumented, poor, Black, BIPOC, white…” she said.
Myth: The science was rushed and not studied in kids
It’s true that the COVID vaccines were approved faster than any other vaccines, but the science was not compromised.
“Vaccines became available faster because of cutting red tape, not cutting corners,” Shessler said. Scientists benefited from existing coronavirus and mRNA research to get the vaccines to market quickly.
The fact that we’re still waiting for FDA approval to vaccine kids demonstrates that health care officials are not compromising safety.
In addition, more than 7 million people ages 12-17 have received the vaccine, Arsnow pointed out.
This article is being shared by The Granite State News Collaborative. For more information visit collaborativenh.org.