This article appeared in Detroit Free Press. Read more here.
As I sat in the vaccine clinic last year, rolling up my sleeve, I felt a small pop in my belly: a tiny movement from my baby. That little kick reminded me why getting my COVID-19 vaccine was so very important. I was protecting both of us against COVID-19 and the associated complications, which include preterm delivery and severe maternal illness and increased risk of death. I was also giving him antibodies, or immune-fighter cells, that would help him as a newborn and an infant, for up to six months.
Now that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have approved COVID-19 vaccinations for our littlest ones — ages 6 months to under 5 years — I have yet another opportunity to protect him.
As a pediatrician and a mother, I urge every family with a young child to also take advantage of this safe and effective vaccine.
There are many reasons why I am opting to vaccinate my now 1-year-old son against COVID-19. I think of Mary, the 6-year-old that presented to our Pediatric Intensive Care Unit with heart failure. Her mom told me how she loved to run around in the sprinklers in the summertime and she wondered if she would ever be able to do that again. Mary had multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children, or MIS-C as it is commonly known, a condition that can happen in children after having a COVID-19 infection. She needed medications to help keep her blood pressure normal and her heart working. Mary ultimately survived but had long-term consequences from MIS-C and COVID-19.
I also think of Finn, the 4-year-old that came into the emergency room with an asthma attack because of a COVID-19 infection. He was struggling to breathe and ultimately needed a tube down his throat and a ventilator, a machine to help breathe for him. I watched the machine help his chest rise and fall, his small figure looking so helpless. His dad never left his side, holding his little hand, day and night. Finn also recovered, though his dad told me about six months later that he still gets winded and tired quicker than his friends when he plays outside.
Stories like these are strong reminders that COVID-19 can unleash serious harm on the health of young kids, which is not captured in many of the statistics we see about case counts and deaths.
As someone who received the vaccine while pregnant and participated in a study to follow outcomes of pregnancy and infancy after COVID-19 vaccination, I believe that data and outcomes are important to make an informed decision. Millions of children have been vaccinated, and the safety data is very reassuring. I urge families to reach out to their pediatrician and consult trusted messengers, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to learn more about the benefits of the COVID-19 vaccination.
As pediatricians, we will continue to encourage parents to vaccinate their children against COVID-19 and provide trusted resources to improve education surrounding these vaccines. However, we cannot do it alone. To ensure families can access this lifesaving vaccine, our state government must provide equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines across Michigan and understand barriers to vaccination so that we, as health care workers, public health providers, parents, and advocates of child health, can eliminate those barriers.
Community leaders, too, can help by sharing their stories, encourage COVID-19 vaccination for children 6 months and older, and partnering with local health departments in order to provide improved access and a trusted community presence.
Now that the safe, effective, and lifesaving COVID-19 vaccine is available to one of our most vulnerable populations — infants and children — it is time to protect our future.
Gurbaksh Esch is a pediatrician and Alice Hamilton Scholar in Flint with the Pediatric Public Health Initiative at Michigan State University College of Human Medicine.