Editor’s Note: Syra Madad, DHSc, MSc, MCP is an infectious disease epidemiologist, senior director of the system-wide special pathogens program at NYC Health + Hospitals, health and safety lead at the Enhanced Investigations Unit of NYC Test & Trace, and fellow at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. She tweets @syramadad. The views expressed in this commentary are her own. View more opinion at CNN.
I’m an infectious disease epidemiologist and mom of three, ages 1, 5 and 8. These past 19 months have been challenging on all fronts for me and my family. The pandemic has robbed us in more ways than one – from the 10 loved ones we lost to Covid-19 to the social impact on our lives. Coupled with my ongoing work in pandemic response at the local, state, national and international levels, the emotional toll has been immense.
All the adults in my family are fully vaccinated against Covid-19, but my children, who are not yet eligible for a shot, are fully vulnerable to the disease. The latest surge driven by the highly transmissible Delta variant caused a significant rise of new pediatric Covid-19 infections, with children accounting for one in four infections, and nearly 30,000 children needing hospitalization just in the month of August.
So as a family, we have been erring on the side of caution, still avoiding large mass gatherings indoors, masking in all indoor spaces, being cognizant of who we meet and where we go, and not going on any trips we can’t take by car.
But now, with the hope of a pediatric Covid-19 vaccine on the horizon as Pfizer/BioNTech seeks US Food and Drug Administration approval to authorize emergency use for children ages 5 to 11, here’s why I plan to vaccinate my kids:
First, it will be for their protection. Once inoculated, they will be at a decreased risk of suffering from illness, hospitalization, long Covid and even death. They’ll be less likely to have disruptions from their schooling, given that, once vaccinated, they will not have to quarantine every time they’ve been exposed to someone who has Covid-19.
As of October 26, over 5.3 million children have been infected since the beginning of this pandemic, including my three kids who contracted Covid-19 in April 2020. They were fortunate to not be among the more than 66,000 children who needed hospitalization or the more than 700 children who died. Every one of these child victims matters. Each is someone’s son or daughter.
While, on the whole, children have been largely spared from suffering severe illness compared to adults, there is still the threat of illness and the long-term consequences such as Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children (MIS-C) or long Covid – both rare but real possibilities with unknown outcomes.
In addition, we’re still not out of the woods when it comes to newer, potentially more dangerous viral variants. With the highly transmissible Delta variant, pediatric Covid-19 cases substantially increased. There is still a real possibility that a variant will evolve that affects children to an even greater degree. Having vaccine-induced immunity could help fend off, or at least reduce, this impact.
As a mom who’s been adamant about getting her kids vaccinated against the flu every year, knowing that since the start of 2020 Covid-19 has killed vastly more children than the flu makes the choice to vaccinate my children against Covid-19 an easy one.
Second, it’s not just about protecting my kids; it’s also about our collective protection. Vaccines work best at the community level, helping to cut down on chains of transmission and slow the spread of the virus. Children can be vectors, spreading the virus, often unknowingly. In order for us to collectively reach higher thresholds of immunity and have sustainable control over this pandemic, it’s essential we vaccinate children.
Third, once my children are vaccinated, we will be able to go back to engaging in activities we enjoyed as a family, those that would be too high risk to do while they were unvaccinated. This includes traveling internationally, going to mixed indoor gatherings like weddings or to the movies, and dining at restaurants indoors.
My children will then not have to wear a mask unless in public spaces or when local conditions dictate otherwise or where there are local, state or federal ordinances. We yearn to restore full normalcy to our lives and have a peace of mind and know our children are protected – and in order to get to that point we have to vaccinate our children.