This article appeared in Michigan Advance. Read more here.
It’s been nearly two months since the federal government approved the COVID-19 vaccine for children under 5, but an overwhelming majority of Michiganders in that age group are still not vaccinated.
According to the state, as of Aug. 3, less than 4% of children under 5 in the state have received one dose of the vaccine, and less than 2% are fully vaccinated against the disease.
Gloria Smith, a 4-year-old in Grosse Pointe Farms, is part of that small percentage of Michigan children.
Her father, Peter Smith, said it wasn’t a tough decision to get her vaccinated.
“We decided to get her vaccinated [against COVID-19] because we get her vaccinated for everything else. There’s a reason why she doesn’t have polio or whooping cough or rheumatic fever or anything like that,” Smith said. “Why would I not give something to my child to make her safer?”
Stephen Wooden, 41, of Grand Rapids, became a father during the pandemic and decided to get his son vaccinated as soon as he could.
Sam, Wooden’s only child, is just over 1 year old but already has contracted Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), another respiratory virus, just months after he was born.
“It really emphasizes how important it is to keep your kid healthy from preventable diseases. And we knew from the start that we were going to do what we could to protect our child from COVID,” said Wooden.
On June 17, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorized emergency use of the Moderna vaccine and the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to include use in children from 6 months to 5 years old.
But despite the expansion of eligibility, this age group hasn’t been getting vaccinated at the same rate that other age groups did once availability opened up.
In the first week the vaccine was made available to children under 5, less than .6% of children in that age group got the vaccine.
The first week the vaccine was made available to children between the ages of 5 and 11, nearly 1.5% of children in that age group got the vaccine. For the 12 to 15 age group, nearly 7% of children received the vaccine within the first week it was available.
Nearly 68% of all Michiganders have received at least one dose of the vaccine. Nationwide, about 68% of people in the U.S. are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
Since the start of the pandemic, more than 2.7 million Michiganders have tested positive for COVID-19, and 37,534 people in Michigan have died from the virus. In the U.S., there have been more than 92 million cases and over 1 million deaths.
Despite the lower rate of young children who are getting the vaccine, there are a significant number of children in this age group that have been hospitalized and died from COVID-19.
Since the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020, there have been more than 2 million COVID-19 cases in young children, 20,000 children hospitalized and 200 deaths among children under 5 in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“To me, those numbers are enough to really convince many parents about the importance of this vaccine in this particular age group,” said Veronica McNally, founder of the I Vaccinate Campaign and a member of the CDC Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices.
One of the concerns stopping parents from getting their young children vaccinated is the risk of myocarditis, or inflammation of the heart, from the vaccine.
However, Dr. Natasha Bagdasarian, chief medical executive of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, said the risk of children developing myocarditis after being infected from COVID-19 is higher than the risk from the vaccine.
“We are always weighing risks versus benefits. And the benefits of the vaccine far outweigh any risk associated with the vaccine,” Bagdasarian said.
Wooden said he is concerned about the risk for his son of Long COVID, where symptoms like extreme fatigue and breathing problems can continue months after a diagnosis.
“We didn’t want to expose our child to a virus that could leave him with chronic health conditions that limits his potential and makes it harder for him to enjoy his full childhood,” Wooden said.
Doctors and medical experts are warning parents of another surge in COVID-19 cases as we approach the fall. Colder weather and more indoor activities, including at schools and daycares, contribute to greater spread of the virus.
Both Wooden and Smith have decided to keep their children out of traditional daycares to avoid that spread.
“We refinanced our house to get a nanny, because we just weren’t going to send her to a daycare,” said Smith. “I have friends who this past school year had kids in daycare, and their kids didn’t go to daycare for a full week the entire school year because of COVID. We just don’t have the time to take off work to do that.”