I am a coronavirus analyst who has been in COVID-19 intensive care units. I have witnessed the painful and all-consuming struggle of individuals who caught the virus.
I am also a mother of a blended family of seven children, three of them between the ages of five and 11. And I am still unsure whether to vaccinate my kids on Tuesday.
That’s because vaccinating children against COVID-19 involves taking one giant leap of faith in science and God.
Here is why I am conflicted:
1 - Better data will be available shortly
Israel’s COVID-19 children’s vaccination campaign is expected to kick off on Tuesday, 20 days after the same vaccination campaign was launched in the United States. So far, according to the White House, more than 2.6 million children have given a shoulder to the campaign – nearly one in 10 younger children.
But it will take a couple more weeks until we have information on any unexpected side effects experienced by these children once they are fully vaccinated. Children receive two 10-microgram doses three weeks apart and, like adults, are considered fully vaccinated only one week later.
Science has shown that the majority of serious side effects for any vaccine occurs within just a few weeks of inoculation, and the COVID-19 vaccine should be no different.
Israel was the first country in the world to vaccinate so many citizens and to roll out booster shots. We shared this data with America and the rest of the world, which helped countries make decisions about how quickly the mRNA vaccines wane and the effectiveness of a third dose.
Just this weekend, the US Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control ruled in favor of allowing boosters for all adults over 18. However, in September, the FDA first ruled only to provide boosters to people over the age of 65 and those at high risk of contracting or developing serious disease until they had more data.
Perhaps in this case we should do the same.
2 - I have a child who is about to turn 12
The Centers for Disease Controlhas said that each child should get the dose that is right for their age on the day of their first inoculation. As such, a child who is 11 years and 364 days old would receive a 10-microgram children’s dose, and a kid who turns 12 on Tuesday would get the full 30-microgram inoculation.
While I have spoken to various health experts who have told me that there is no reason to wait to vaccinate my daughter until she turns 12 in May, and that the 10-microgram dose will likely work as well as the larger one, they admitted that the cutoff was somewhat arbitrary, based on the clinical trials.
Perhaps a few more months won’t hurt to be sure.
3 - A healthy five-year-old is unlikely to get very sick from COVID
While, no doubt, COVID-19 is a life-threatening and powerful disease that one should avoid at all costs, it is not necessarily as harmful to young children.
The Health Ministry released data showing that only 206 children and teens have been hospitalized in serious condition since the start of the pandemic, out of more than 540,000 individuals under the age of 19 who have tested positive for the virus.
Eleven children have died of the virus, and some 150 have developed Pediatric Inflammatory Multisystem Syndrome, including two who have died from the syndrome. But as the ministry wrote in a Facebook post in which it shared this data, all of the children who succumbed to the virus had underlying medical conditions that put them at greater risk.
Perhaps the virus is less of a risk for my littlest one than the jab.
4 - But isolation makes kids ill
The impact of isolation on our children is dramatic and traumatic.
Putting children into quarantine is correlated with outbursts of anger, expressions of violence, prolonged use of screens and reversal of sleep hours, a survey published in September by the Social Policy Institute at Washington University in St. Louis showed.
My 11-year-old has already endured two isolations and one partial isolation as part of the Green Class program. This meant missing gymnastics, her favorite thing to do, weight gain and moodiness.
A year of Zoom school pushed my youngest children behind, and has left me with bills for math and Hebrew tutors during an already challenging financial time. It also stung their friendships and social confidence, which they are only starting to regain now.
Perhaps vaccinating, even with the risks, will benefit them in so many more ways.
5 - Vaccination is protection, protection is peace of mind
There is also this desire to just feel safe.
Even though I am vaccinated, I am still careful to wear my mask in crowded and indoor spaces and to wash my hands well. But I don’t feel as nervous in meetings or at restaurants as I did before the jab.
I want to be able to take my little kids to the grocery store or even the movie theater without worrying that they are going to catch the virus.
My husband put it well the other night: “Look how lice spreads around our daughter’s preschool. What if coronavirus got in?”
Perhaps I will sleep better at night if they are vaccinated.
6 - It is for the betterment of us all
The head of the World Health Organization, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, has stressed that “no one is safe until everyone is safe.” He was speaking about vaccine inequality, but the truth is that this applies inside micro-societies, too.
If my children get vaccinated, then the virus will have less opportunity to spread and infect other people, including the elderly and immunocompromised, who might be less protected. It will mean less citizens are susceptible to variants that travelers might bring into the country, and will allow us all to live more freely and according to routine.
PERHAPS, AS the majority of health experts have stressed, the benefits of vaccinating children far outweigh the risks.
Vaccination is the most effective way to stop the spread of the pandemic. But like with everything COVID-19, health experts know only what they can know today, because we are dealing with a new phenomenon.
This degree of uncertainty, even for a mother like me who has seen the hell of this pandemic, is enough to make me pause and question before moving forward on a course that will have a fateful impact on the children’s future.