I am an ER doctor and mother. With the news last week, that the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid vaccine is now available for kids ages 5 to 11, parents have asked my opinion about immunizing their children.
After spending the last 20 months caring for Covid patients in the hospital, I have been eager to get my own kids immunized. But because most children will not have severe disease, it pays to consider other benefits of giving kids the vaccine. Here’s what I tell parents about why I am immunizing my own children:
Vaccination protects kids against death and severe complications of Covid like Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome (MIS-C). Although the CDC notes that in the US there have been only about 800 deaths from Covid in children under age 18, these deaths are completely preventable. So are the hospitalizations and long recovery associated with MIS-C.
Vaccination protects against long-Covid. Current data suggests that long-Covid is less common in children and adolescents, but I do not want my kids to survive a mild or asymptomatic case of Covid only to develop chronic, ongoing health problems.
Vaccination protects against “late effects” of Covid. Many viruses have effects that do not show up until years after the initial infection. Common examples include shingles, a painful rash that adults who had chickenpox as children develop later in life; and post-polio syndrome, where adults who survived polio as children develop multiple symptoms, including difficulty walking, years later.
Because Covid is a new or “novel” disease, we do not yet know what a post-Covid syndrome will look like. But there will likely be one. Vaccinating my children now can protect them from symptoms they might suffer later in life.
Vaccinations protect grandparents and other vulnerable individuals. My kid’s closest relatives are my aging parents. Immunizing my children will help preserve those precious relationships and my parents’ health.
Vaccination will make my children safer when they interact with unimmunized members of our community. It will also give me peace of mind as they participate in ordinary childhood activities—including gathering with unimmunized family members during the holidays.
Vaccination will help keep my kids in school. Once vaccinated, they will not have to quarantine or miss school when they are exposed to another sick child.
Getting vaccinated is a way children can serve their community. I want my kids to know that getting immunized is not just something they are doing for themselves. It is an act of service that will benefit their whole community—and a demonstration of civic responsibility they can be proud of.
Finally, my personal experience in hospitals and understanding of science reassures me that the vaccine is safe. Pediatricians and family doctors are happy to help other parents explore their own questions about the vaccine’s safety and benefits.
My 12-year-old daughter was immunized this summer. The National Guard volunteer who gave her the second jab high-fived her when she was done. The two shot regimen made it possible for her to go to summer camp and to participate in activities she had missed the year before.
Although he is no fan of needles, my 7-year-old son did not cry when the public health nurse gave him his first dose of the vaccine a couple of days ago. But I did. After witnessing so much death and illness from Covid in the Emergency Room, I confess to wiping away a tear as the nurse put a Band-Aid on my son’s arm and smiled at us through her mask.
I would never have wished for a pandemic to disrupt my children’s childhoods—or for it to have lasted this long. Getting my kids immunized takes us one step closer to a world where they can grow up safe from Covid.
Marion Bishop is an emergency medicine physician who works in northern Utah. Her views are her own. You can find more of her writing and learn about her ER pandemic experience at marioncbishop.com.