Decision time: Majority of area parents considering COVID shot for their young kids

Hesitance remains, however, even among parents who have been vaccinated.

Ebony Speakes-Hall plans to get her 7-year-old son, Jaxson Hall, vaccinated against COVID-19 as soon as they can get an appointment with their pediatrician.

The Liberty Twp. resident said she’s going to make it a big deal and post about it on Instagram and Facebook to encourage other parents to get their child vaccinated.

“I couldn’t wait until it was actually available for Jaxson’s age,” she said. “My husband and I got the Moderna vaccine, but I was still on edge. I still needed to be very cautious about where I went, traveling, etc., because my son wasn’t vaccinated. So now that it’s here, I’m so excited about the opportunity.”

Last Sunday, the Dayton Daily News dug into the risks and benefits of the COVID-19 vaccine for children. This story shares the decisions many parents in our community are making and why.

About 900,000 young kids nationwide, including nearly 26,000 children in Ohio, received the first dose of the COVID-19 shot in the first week since federal regulators approved the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine on Nov. 2 for use in children 5 to 11.

Pediatricians and health experts nationwide recommend the vaccine for children, saying it is safe and crucial kids are vaccinated widely to protect them and their community, and to get children’s lives back to normal.

A Dayton Daily News online survey and national polling show that the majority of parents are either considering the coronavirus vaccine for their young child or intend to get their child vaccinated right away. However, some remain unconvinced and as many as three in 10 parents nationally say they will definitely not get their child vaccinated, according to an October poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Parents feel more wary of getting their child the shot than making the decision for themselves. Dayton resident Tiffany Terry said she is still gathering info about the vaccine before she decides whether to give it to her 6-year-old daughter.

“I just want to make sure that I’m making the best decision for someone who can’t make a decision for themselves,” she said.

Many families excited to get young children vaccinated

Beavercreek Twp. resident Cathy Griffith said it was frustrating as a parent waiting to provide her 6-year-old daughter with the same protection she had.

“I don’t know that it was ever really a question for us that she would be vaccinated for COVID,” Griffith said.

Many area parents and children are thrilled about being able to get the shot (although some kids are less excited about the actual needle poke). About 52% of parents who responded to an online survey by the Dayton Daily News said they would get their child in the 5 to 11 age group vaccinated right away.

About one-third of parents nationally say they will get their child vaccinated right away, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

For months, Dayton resident Roman Collier has been the only member of his immediate family who was not vaccinated against COVID-19. On Monday, he told all his friends at Brantwood Elementary School he was getting the shot that afternoon. His friends were all excited to get the shot soon as well, he said.

Roman’s mom, Nikki Collier, said they’ll feel safer now doing more things Roman’s missed out on during the pandemic.

“Especially at his age, it was really rough being home,” she said.

Dayton-area parents who are getting their kids vaccinated right away said they are doing so because they trust experts, including their family doctor. They want to protect their child, family members and their community (especially high-risk individuals) against a serious disease. And they are eager for the day their kids can see friends and family, play sports, travel and do other activities safely and unmasked — the things they’ve missed out on for almost two years.

Dayton resident Kelly Watts said she’s talked with her 10-year-old daughter about the virus and why she needs to get the vaccine.

“She’s very aware,” Watts said. “Although adults are being affected by COVID more, there are kids and young people who are dying, and if it doesn’t kill you, you could pass it to someone else and they could get harmed.”

A few non-white parents cited racial disparities in the effects of COVID-19 as motivation for their family to get the shot.

Throughout the pandemic, Black and Hispanic children in America have been more likely to be hospitalized and more likely to develop multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MIS-C), a serious and sometimes deadly condition involving inflammation around the heart and other organs. In the 5 to 11 age group, 68% of children hospitalized with COVID-19 were Black.

“I want to encourage specifically Black parents to really consider getting their kids vaccinated, because we are disproportionately impacted by COVID,” Speakes-Hall said.

Some parents against the shot

Roughly a third of parents nationally say they will wait and see before getting their child vaccinated and another third say they will definitely not get their child vaccinated, according to polling by the Kaiser Family Foundation. About 41% of parents who responded to the Dayton Daily News survey said they would not get their child in the 5 to 11 age group vaccinated. Respondents in this category said the vaccine was too new, and they were not convinced the vaccine was safe for children.

Kyle Kettering of Xenia said he and his wife won’t vaccinate their three kids.

“If you can’t promise me that my child isn’t going to have an adverse reaction to something, then I don’t really want to give it to them,” he said.

Many parents who won’t get their child vaccinated have received the shot themselves. Of the 61 area parents who responded to our survey and said they would not get their child vaccinated, 27, or about 44%, were vaccinated themselves. Those parents pointed to the fact that kids are at less risk of serious illness with COVID-19 than adults. While that’s true, experts said kids, even healthy ones, can still get seriously ill and, on rare occasion, die.

Ohio State University Professor Graham Dixon, an expert in health communications who studies messaging around vaccines, said the COVID-19 vaccine has been politicized like no other vaccine before in this country, leading some conservative-leaning Americans to reject it on political grounds. Parents also face an onslaught of misinformation about coronavirus and the vaccines online, Dixon said.

Almost four in five American adults believe or are unsure about at least one common falsehood about COVID-19 or the vaccine, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. This includes myths about the government exaggerating the number of COVID-19 deaths (38% believe this) and the government intentionally hiding deaths due to the COVID-19 vaccine (18% believe this).

Top concerns those parents have about getting their young child the COVID-19 vaccine include: not enough is known about the long-term effects of the vaccine in children (76% of parents), their child might experience side effects from the vaccine (71% of parents), and the vaccine may negatively impact their child’s fertility in the future (66% of parents).

The benefits of the coronavirus vaccine for young children outweigh the extremely rare and mild risks of the shot, according to health experts nationwide. In the 5 to 11 age group, more than 8,300 kids have been hospitalized for COVID-19 (30% of whom were otherwise healthy), over 2,300 kids developed MIS-C and 173 kids have died.

In the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine trial, no serious side effects were detected. Vaccines do not stay in the body past six to eight weeks and cannot cause side effects later on. Thus, experts feel confident recommending the vaccine based on the safety data in hand.

Dr. Katherine Lambes, a pediatrician with Community Health Centers of Greater Dayton and a mother who plans to get her 8-year-old daughter the shot right away, talks to parents every day who are set against the shot.

“I don’t have a good argument yet to dissuade them,” she said. “There is just a mindset of distrust that has been coming from and been nurtured by certain groups and politicians to distrust science and scientists and things like that. So that is a hurdle that I haven’t yet figured out how to overcome, and neither have many others in the science community.”

Area health experts encourage parents to speak with their doctor or other primary care provider about the coronavirus vaccine.

About a quarter of American’s don’t have a primary care physician. But one-on-one engagement is more effective than any mass advertisement at relaying info about vaccines’ benefits and risks, Dixon said. Public health authorities need to keep that in mind, he said.

“Engagement is key,” Dixon said. “Parents rightfully have questions. And a simple poster that tells them it’s safe and effective and free might not be the best approach.”

A path out of the pandemic

Adults who are already vaccinated against COVID-19 and plan on getting their children vaccinated view the shots as the path toward making COVID-19 less common and more manageable.

“If enough people get vaccinated, it does not become such a shutdown event anymore,” said Springfield resident Natalie Fritz, a mother who plans to get her 9-year-old vaccinated right away. “So it’s just frustrating. Like why doesn’t anyone else get this? This is how we move past it.”

In Ohio, about 67% of adults and about 44% of adolescents ages 12 to 17 have received at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine.

Beavercreek resident Allen Stebelton said it’s hard keeping his three young kids home because he is immunocompromised. His kids, who are 7, 9 and 11 years old, did not return to Beavercreek schools this fall because the district was not requiring face masks. They’re going to an online public school.

About 3% of American adults — 7 million people — have suppressed immune systems and thus are at high risk of serious complications from COVID-19.

Stebelton and his wife believed so strongly that the vaccines were safe for their kids and about doing their part to end the pandemic that their children were enrolled in the Pfizer trial. Two of them got the placebo, so they received the real thing on Friday.

The Stebeltons want to get their kids vaccinated so they can be kids again.

“We’ve been pretty restrictive,” he said. “They aren’t able to do things that they’ve been able to do in the past, go out and do things and be with people. And it’s one thing to keep myself from doing those things, but it’s it’s pretty difficult keeping the kids from doing those things.”

Have questions about COVID-19, face masks, vaccines, testing, quarantining or anything else pandemic-related? Send them to Answers will be published regularly in print and online.

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