Vaccine Info for Parents
Amid wonderful vaccine progress—including national eligibility for everyone ages 16 and older and Pfizer announcing initial findings that their vaccine safe and effective in preventing illness in those 12 years to 15—parents now have the choice to get their children vaccinated. While most are overjoyed with these developments, I have heard from a few who, despite being vaccinated themselves, are wary about the decision for their child. They have appropriate questions about safety, necessity, and side effects, and I want to acknowledge and address these concerns.
Dear parents, for as long as your child has been alive, their safety and wellbeing has been your foremost concern. You should absolutely want to understand risks and benefits of any choices you make regarding their health. Your child’s medical provider supports that decision-making process. We encourage you to ask questions and get the answers you need.
Look to science-based sources. As you search for the answers to your questions, use credible science-based sources of information. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Vermont Department of Health, and the American Academy of Pediatrics are great sources. These highlight evidence-based information about the risks of contracting COVID-19, of which there are many. They are also provide the risks of vaccination, which are extremely rare.
Vaccination is not new. We have used vaccination, in one form or another, since the 1700s. Vaccines, certainly among the top five medical innovations of all time, have saved hundreds of millions of lives and have allowed the advancement of civilization. The methods used to create the COVID-19 vaccines have been in development for decades. There is no science-based reason to believe that the vaccines will cause any negative long-term effects.
One of the myths that has surfaced in social media is that the vaccines affect fertility, a notion that is completely unfounded and not biologically plausible. Yet such sensational statements persist due to the panic and concern they initiate in the reader. Millions of adults and thousands of kids have received the vaccine without safety concerns and resulting in a profound protection against COVID-19.
If there were problems with the vaccines, you would hear about them. The pause of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine should provide confidence that the doctors and scientists are watching for even the slightest “less than one in a million” chance of side effects. Their responsiveness is a signal that safety is the priority.
The risks of COVID-19 are high, for both individuals and the population as a whole. Although most children infected with COVID-19 have mild symptoms, we know children can have serious complications related to the immune response or heart and lung function. Even after what may be a few days of mild illness, they can develop symptoms that make it difficult to exercise, which could affect their long-term health and ability to participate in sports. They can also pass the virus to the adults in their lives, some of whom may be at high risk of serious complications from COVID-19.
We need everyone to work together. If we are able to get 70 percent or more of our population vaccinated, we can largely put COVID-19 behind us. And we will not reach that all-important threshold without including children. With the majority of kids and adults vaccinated, COVID-19 will affect our lives to the same degree as the seasonal flu. That means you won’t have to wear a mask or avoid visits with family and friends.
If we do not vaccinate our kids, the virus will persist in high numbers for years. Too may people will continue to get sick, require hospital care, and die. Viral mutations will continue, and we will need masking and distancing for years to come.
Putting it all together. Vaccination against COVID-19 is by far the safest choice to protect the wellbeing of our children and for the entirety of society. I, too, am a parent. My two teenage boys are scheduled for vaccination next week. I hope yours will get vaccinated soon, too. Then our children may gather safely with one another, interacting without masks or the need to distance, and once again enjoy each other’s smiles and companionship, an element to life that we all desperately need to return.
Trey Dobson, MD, is the chief medical officer of Southwestern Vermont Medical Center in Bennington, VT.