Why I vaccinated my elementary school-aged kids against COVID-19

by Dr. Mark Grabill

Some of the most common questions we get as pediatricians are: “What have you done, are you doing, or would you do with your kids in this situation?” PAR parents that know me know I’m a dad of two elementary school-aged children. They tell me it’s helpful to hear the pediatrician perspective but also my parent perspective. So without further ado, the following are reasons why we (my wife and I) vaccinated our children against COVID-19.

(1) It’s Safe. The trial data showed the vaccine to be safe. (https://bit.ly/3AtG92W, https://bit.ly/3rMGN7T) There were no new/unique side effects that weren’t seen in other age groups. 5-11 year old children generally had fewer side effects, and the side effects they did have were milder for the most part when compared to adolescents and young adults. Anecdotally, my children had sore arms after the first dose, and no side effects after their second doses. Vaccine manufacturers and the CDC continue to study the benefits and adverse reactions of vaccines & medications even after they’re authorized or approved (https://bit.ly/3u0Qdzl). My children have been fully vaccinated 2 months as of this writing, as have millions of other children in the U.S. With vaccines, unforeseen side effects or adverse events typically show up within the first 2 months. As of this writing severe adverse reactions remain rare and no surprises have been discovered in the first 2 months. If you were waiting to see how the first wave of children handled it, they (including my two) have done well.

(2) It’s Effective. Real world effectiveness against the predominant strain at the time (Delta) was excellent – close to 91%, and much higher than I was hoping for (https://bit.ly/3AtG92W, https://bit.ly/3rMGN7T). While it hasn’t been quite as effective in preventing infections during Omicron, it still protects many from infection, and certainly more than no vaccination at all. COVID-19 vaccination also significantly lowers the risk of severe infection, complications, and hospitalization. In short: very safe and highly effective at keeping my children from getting really sick.

(3) Reduced Quarantining. Maintaining in-person school for as many days as possible was and is a top priority for our family. Like many parents, we discovered in March 2020 that virtual learning is not ideal for our children. Full vaccination status means no quarantining following a COVID-19 exposure (provided they have no symptoms, of course). With lower risk of getting COVID-19 (thanks vaccine!) and no need to quarantine due to incidental exposures, we also felt more comfortable getting our children involved in their extracurricular activities again. We sacrificed a lot of activities in the first 18 months of the pandemic to avoid the possibility of quarantining and missed school days. Having our children vaccinated brought a sense of peace and normalcy I hadn’t felt since June 2021 when my wife and I were fully vaccinated, kids were out of school, and we had only 2 positive COVID tests at PAR for the entire month.

(4) Protecting Those Around Us. Within our extended family we had individuals with high-risk conditions for whom herd immunity was very important, even though they were vaccinated. We felt compelled to do everything we could to provide protection and herd immunity and we were happy to do it. Visits could become less stressful, and more plentiful. And that protection for others also extended to our children’s schoolmates, our friends, and their children, some of whom may not have been vaccinated yet for a multitude of reasons.

The above were the 4 main factors my wife and I used when the EUA came out in November. More information and data have come out in the last 2 months. A follow up safety study was published 12/31/21 affirming the vaccine safety observed in the clinical trials for 5-11 year old children. Data are showing increased risk of new diabetes diagnosis following COVID-19 infection (https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/71/wr/mm7102e2.htm). During the Omicron wave at PAR, we’ve seen less symptom-free patients than during previous stages of the pandemic, and more symptoms per patient who tests positive. I’m grateful my children have a lower likelihood of experiencing these things. My colleagues and I want nothing more than for your children to remain healthy in 2022. As of this writing, 42% of our positive tests for the entire pandemic have come during the Omicron wave (approximately the last 4-5 weeks). We believe encouraging all age-eligible individuals to get vaccinated (and boosted if eligible) against COVID-19 is an important way to slow this trend. Please join us in the fight to keep kids healthy, in school, and enjoying the things they love to do.