I’ve had a wake-up call on Covid vaccines for children – mine will be first in line

9th November, 2021.      //   pandemics  // 

Nyla Varner, 9,  receives a vaccination at Kaiser Permanente Tustin Ranch Vaccination Clinic on 4 November 2021 in Tustin, California.

Along with a lot of other people, over the summer I had responded to news about Covid vaccine trials in young children mainly by sitting on the fence. When the time came, I thought, I’d probably get my two six-year-olds vaccinated, but possibly not in the first wave. It seemed unnecessary to run for the door, given the low impact of the disease on young children and the high number of teens and adults (nearly 80% in our zip code) in New York who have had at least one dose of vaccine. A big surprise, therefore, has been not only how keen I am to get my kids vaxxed, after Tuesday’s announcement that 28 million five- to 11-year-olds in the US are now eligible, but how emotional this moment feels.

It has been a feature of Covid that every projected end-point has been pushed back beyond the horizon. To remember March 2020 is to invite bitter laughter at the naivety of those early days of lockdown, when we thought this thing might be over by summer, or by autumn, or by the first Christmas – definitely by the time the vaccine programme rolled out, in early 2021. And it did get much better. Viewed from the US, people in the UK look deranged, sending their unvaccinated kids to school unmasked, behaving as if Covid is over while the numbers surge. But even here in New York, where precautions are still stringent – the kids are under mask mandates at school and no one I know is having indoor playdates or birthday parties – it is, of course, a vast improvement on where we were last year. If this is the new normal, we had, I thought, done a good job of adjusting.

With this in mind, it seemed that vaccinating one’s kids when the trial period was so “shallow” (these are the things one has found oneself saying, with great authority, in the last weeks and months) wasn’t a priority. At the end of October, the New York Times reported an Axios-Ipsos poll showing that 42% of parents in the US said they were unlikely to get their under-12s vaccinated. Another survey, by the Kaiser Family Foundation, found that two-thirds of all parents were either reluctant or firmly opposed to vaccinating their kids. People mumbled about myocarditis, a heart condition most often triggered in very small numbers of boys and young men in the wake of receiving the vaccine. This seemed eminently reasonable in October – as has been the case throughout Covid, time concertinas in weird ways so that even the most recent history can feel like ancient times. Wait and see; why wouldn’t we?

That was the week before last. I hadn’t been paying close attention to the data; these conversations were all driven by emotion. Looking now, however, this position seems ludicrous. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 172 children between the ages of five and 11 have died from Covid-19 in the US, and more than 8,300 have been hospitalised. The CDC figures indicate that of the 877 recorded cases of myocarditis in under 30-year-olds after the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, none resulted in death. All these risks are vanishingly small, and the risk to kids from catching Covid – this is before you get to the public health implications and the risks posed to vulnerable adults from unvaccinated kids – would still seem to be higher.

On Tuesday, a week after the Federal Drug Agency approved the vaccine for five to 12-year-olds, at a third of the adult dose, the CDC officially recommended it. Within a day, we received two emails, one from our doctor’s office, another from my children’s school, offering the Covid vaccine for all who wanted it, in the school auditorium next Tuesday. Suddenly, a pathway to getting the kids out of masks opened up. (Although if large numbers of parents hold out on vaccinating their kids, it’s unclear exactly how this will happen; as with every other aspect of Covid, the greatest opportunity provided by this latest development is the one to loathe other people.)

In the 1980s, we lined up outside the nurse’s office in school to receive our BCG (tuberculosis) jabs, and it’s a smart move to deliver Covid vaccines in school. By the middle of last week, friends were jumping on even earlier appointments in midtown clinics and before long, photos started to come in of their eight-year-olds getting jabbed. All dissembling evaporated. We look with hope and relief to this Tuesday. It doesn’t proof us against every Covid-related eventuality, but after all the mindless dithering and unscientific speculation, the feeling is one of pure joy. Another step closer.

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