Editor’s Note: Kara Alaimo, an associate professor in the Lawrence Herbert School of Communication at Hofstra University, writes about issues affecting women and social media. She was spokeswoman for international affairs in the Treasury Department during the Obama administration. The opinions expressed in this commentary are her own. View more opinion at CNN.
As parents like me get ready to send our kids back to school this fall, we’re required to submit paperwork proving that our children are up to date on their routine childhood vaccinations. But while kids 6 months through 4 years of age finally became eligible for Covid-19 vaccines this summer, they largely aren’t required to get them in order to go to school. On top of that, most school districts are making masks optional.
This new approach, catering to those who are anti-science and anti-public health, leaves all of our children less safe. And it forces parents like me to make impossible decisions about whether to take risks with our children’s health in order to educate them and avail ourselves of the childcare we need to work.
While my husband and I raced to get our 1- and 3-year-old daughters vaccinated against Covid-19 as soon as they were eligible, I’m appalled that most other parents haven’t followed suit. As of July 27, just 4.7% of kids aged 6 months to 4 years had received their first Covid vaccine, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), and only 30% of children ages 5-11 had received their recommended two doses. The AAP, of course, recommends that children get the vaccine in order to protect them from severe disease.
But the decisions of some parents not to vaccinate their children don’t just put the health of their own families in greater danger. They also put everyone around them at risk – including my own vaccinated daughters, who can still get breakthrough cases from their classmates.
Children under age 5 are especially vulnerable in these situations. Masks aren’t recommended for kids under age 2 (they could suffocate), and all of the children in my daughter’s preschool take off their masks when they eat and nap. So, the best way to keep these kids safe is for them all to be vaccinated, reducing their risk of contracting Covid-19 and spreading it to others.
When a child brings Covid-19 to school, he or she can quickly infect a lot of classmates who could then bring the infection home to their families. After my husband and I were notified that a classmate of my 3-year-old had tested positive for Covid-19 earlier this year (before children under age 5 were eligible for vaccines), my daughter and at least three other students in her class also tested positive within 24 hours. My daughter, of course, then infected her younger sister, my husband and me. I’m still traumatized by the memory of holding my 1-year-old whose fevers were so high that it felt like she had just come out of a furnace, even though we gave her round-the-clock Tylenol and Motrin. As a professor, I was able to teach my classes online, but my husband, an emergency room physician, had to call out from work, leaving him unable to care for other Covid-19 patients.
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I’m outraged that I might have to keep going through episodes like this, all because of the anti-social decisions of other parents. And I’m worried about the possibility of more severe outcomes if we keep contracting the virus. But the alternative – keeping my children out of school, denying them an education and me the childcare I need in order to work – is also unacceptable.
Our country should be smarter and more responsible than this. States should require that students get vaccinated against Covid-19 before going to school, just as kids are required to get inoculated against diseases like chickenpox and polio. Parents who refuse to accept the guidance of the medical community shouldn’t have the right to make all our kids less safe.