‘What happens if you don’t have the shot?’ Parents weigh whether to vaccinate their adolescents

It’s a good thing Liz Rodriguez’s daughter doesn’t turn 12 until January.

That will give the New York City mom time, she says, to see how the first groups of children as young as 12 respond to Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine.

It will also give her time to consult a pediatrician and then — the hard part — convince her husband, who has refused to get the shot himself, to let their child be vaccinated if Rodriguez indeed decides to go that route.

“I’m going to be honest, I’m not going to rush it,” said Rodriguez, 52, who lives in the Bronx and has been fully vaccinated for two weeks. “I want to see how other children are responding.”

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Wednesday recommended the use of Pfizer/BioNTech’s coronavirus vaccine in 12- to 15-year-olds. That paves the way for younger adolescents to begin receiving shots that public health officials say are key to school reopenings and, more importantly, stamping out the pandemic.

The US Food and Drug Administration extended its emergency use authorization for the vaccine in 12- to 15-year-olds on Monday.

President Joe Biden praised the CDC’s decision, noting that 17 million more Americans would now be eligible for vaccination.

“Now, I encourage each of them and their parents to get their vaccination shots right away,” Biden said.

Parents around the country are considering the president’s advice: Some are rushing to get their kids vaccinated. Some like Rodriguez are playing the waiting game. And some won’t entertain the idea.

Pediatricians play a key role

Jodie Roure, a college professor whose family splits their time between homes in Manhattan and Westchester County in New York, doesn’t want to wait another day to get her 15-year-old twins vaccinated.

On Thursday, Roure said she tried to register them online for the shots but the health department site was not yet equipped to accept minors.

“I know that even people that are themselves vaccinated always have these concerns, like what are the long term impacts on our children? If their immune system is developing, how does this vaccine fit into the development of my child?” she said.

“But I think the more urgent question is, ‘What happens if you don’t have the shot?’ “

Indeed, Dr. Sara Oliver of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases had briefed the agency’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices on the risks and benefits of the vaccine.

“Adolescents 12 to 17 years of age are at risk of severe illness from Covid-19,” Oliver said.

“There have been over 1.5 million reported cases and over 13,000 hospitalizations to date among adolescents 12 to 17 years,” she said.

More children and teens have been hospitalized because of Covid-19 than for flu, according to a comparison of hospitalization rates from past annual influenza epidemics. And teens and children are a source of spread of the virus, according to Oliver.

As more adults are vaccinated, Oliver said, children and teens are accounting for a larger share of infections.

Roure said she and her husband, who works for the National Football League, have not hesitated when it come to getting the twins vaccinated.

“Never, never,” she said, “because we know that the alternative is that a severe case of Covid equals death, and what I don’t want is my children to die from Covid when I know that I could have prevented it.”

Her twins, a boy and a girl who attend private boarding school in Virginia, are excited about the vaccine, according to Roure.

“They don’t feel safe in public spaces,” she said. “When they’re at home, they don’t want to go outside and engage because they don’t want to get sick. They’re very informed.”

Roure said schools and pediatricians must play a role in convincing parents and children to get the shot.

“Pediatricians are key,” she said. “I think teenagers trust their pediatricians… Unfortunately, a lot of children across the United States may not have access to adequate primary care. So that’s where I think the schools come in.”

‘You don’t want to argue with your friends’

In South Florida, Jennifer Ann Ballester-Palacio said she plans to have her son vaccinated as soon as he turns 12 in late August.

“Summer is coming and people are going to be traveling,” she said. “I plan to travel after being quarantined for so long. Everybody’s kind of over it.”

Ballester-Palacio, 42, said she’s surprised at the number of moms hesitant to get their children vaccinated.

Earlier this month, a survey revealed that less than a third of parents say they would get their child vaccinated as soon as it is authorized for their age group.

About 29% of parents of children under age 18 said they would get their child vaccinated “right away” as soon as the child was eligible, according to Kaiser Family Foundation Covid-19 Vaccine Monitor data.

An additional 32% said they would wait to see how the vaccine is working before getting their child inoculated. The remaining parents said either that their child would be vaccinated only if their school requires it (15%) or definitely wouldn’t be vaccinated (19%), according to KFF.

A poll conducted during the first week of April found that 52% of parents said they would be willing to vaccinate their children. Still, many others remain unsure amid online misinformation campaigns on vaccine safety.

“There are a lot of moms in the playground who are anti vaxxers,” said Ballester-Palacio, who is fully vaccinated. “They’re smart people and it’s like, ‘What is going on here? Where’s the disconnect?’ They’re like, ‘No, we’re going to wait for more information.’ I just don’t know what they’re waiting for. “

She recalled a conversation with a friend at an outdoor gathering in Fort Lauderdale the other day.

“I asked her if she got her vaccination and she goes, ‘I don’t believe in Covid, Jen,'” Ballester-Palacio said. “This is a woman who, I tell you, is like her body’s her temple. She comes to me for her facials and she’s super fit. She takes care of herself and she’s a mom and she’s like, ‘There’s no way I’m getting my son vaccinated.’ You know, you don’t want to argue with your friends.”

Mom will ask pediatrician to speak with vaccine hesitant dad

Rodriguez, the mom from the Bronx, said her hesitation stems from her own reaction to the second dose of the vaccine. She said the shot was painful. Her arm was sore for days. She was fatigued and had headaches.

“It was like when you’re getting over the flu,” she said. “I worry that my daughter could have a stronger reaction.”

Rodriguez said her husband, Hector, who works in the city’s homeless shelter system, is concerned that the vaccine has not received full approval from the federal government, which has granted emergency use authorization during the health crisis.

“His attitude is, I’m just going to wait,” she said of her husband.

But the vaccine has been shown to be safe and effective in clinical trials, according to health experts. Adverse events were very rare and no serious adverse events were linked to the vaccine, even in younger adolescents. None of the 2,200 12- to 15-year-olds in the clinical trial suffered a severe allergic reaction known as anaphylaxis.

Rodriguez said she has spoken with other parents and friends who have refused to get the vaccine and don’t expect to vaccinate their children.

“Many of them worry there could be something that long term ends up causing cancer,” she said. “That’s what I always hear, what if it causes cancer. And some of them work in health care.”

Health experts have said that any adverse side effects from vaccines almost always surface from two weeks to two months. Still, many Americans will not get vaccinated as myths and misunderstandings spread.

So when Rodriguez’s daughter Alexis turns 12 in January, she said, there should be more information out on the vaccine’s effects on younger children. She will consult her daughter’s pediatrician and, if the doctor recommends the shot, Rodriguez said she will put them in touch with her husband.

“I think what I would end up having to do is probably have her doctors talk to him about it,” she said. “I think he would be fine with that. If I have a professional, someone that we trust say it’s OK.”