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November 5, 2021 · OPINION

Vaccinating children helps end COVID-19 pandemic

Stock Photo
By April Achter
Health Department Epidemiologist

In January 2020, the Chinese government formally notified the U.S. about a novel virus outbreak in Wuhan. The virus, which causes COVID-19, proceeded to spread rapidly around the globe.

By February, your small but mighty public health team was working hard to prepare. We researched, updated our local leadership and healthcare providers, and investigated suspect cases. By March, the Rappahannock Rapidan Health District identified our initial confirmed case.

That night, we called the first of many contacts. They were scared. There were so many unknowns. What was it? How severe? How was it spread? We did our best to both educate and comfort, explained the importance of quarantine, and instructed patients to call us if they developed any symptoms.

The most common question was, “Can I go home?” “May I be around my family?” “Can I hug my child?” Any parent will tell you, there is no worry like the worry for your child.

I understand those fears. My son is an only child with two essential personnel working parents. In the early days, Tom took his scrubs off in the garage and immediately showered. Depending on my work, I did the same thing. We were terrified that our jobs would place our son at risk. There was also the worry about his isolation. We worked such long hours. What was this doing to him?

As we learned more, we relaxed a little. We were vaccinated and schools re-opened. We were seeing the light at the end of the tunnel and talking again about travel and parties and life without masks. Then came Delta.

Our case counts surged, and hospitals were full once again. Except this time people were less likely to take our calls. Frustrations ran high. Fatigue had set in. And this time, kids got sick. Most of them had a mild illness, but just based on the sheer volume, we had children in the hospital and the ICU. Tragically, some died.

Today, we have a safe and effective vaccine authorized by the FDA and CDC recommended for children ages 5 to 11. This is fantastic news. Vaccines are a critical tool that protect children and their families. Yet parents across our region will pause. What should I do? Is my child at risk? The vaccine is new? My child will likely be fine.

And they’ll be right. If your child gets sick with COVID-19, more likely than not they will have a cold. In many ways, the vaccine really isn’t for them. It’s for their parents and, even more so, their grandparents. Young children can and do spread the virus that causes COVID-19. It will continue to spread and potentially mutate, until we control it in children and adults. We now have a tool to do just that.

There are many reasons to vaccinate:

• Individual protection against illness; more than 1.9 million cases in the 5-11 age group have been reported in the United States, with more than 8,300 hospitalizations, more than 2,300 cases of Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children (MIS-C), and 94 deaths.

• During Delta, more than 30% of children hospitalized did not have an underlying health condition.

• Helps our kids stay in school; vaccinated children do not have to quarantine.

• Rates of MIS-C are highest among 5- to 11-year-olds.

• Once in the hospital, one-third of children ended up in the ICU.

• Decreases community transmission; children contribute to spread (and potential mutations).

• As long as the virus circulates, there will be severe cases and deaths.

The holidays are rapidly approaching. As we gather with friends and family, please remember this: According to the CDC, 70 percent of breakthrough cases resulting in hospitalization and 87 percent of those resulting in death are in patients over 65. Unvaccinated persons continue to fuel this pandemic, and can spread disease to those most at risk. Yes, your child would probably escape COVID unscathed, but your mother might not be so lucky.

If you have questions, talk to your doctor or pharmacist.

Visit vaccinatepiedmont.com and watch Dr. Jakum’s virtual Town Hall and scroll through the questions and answers. If you want to make an appointment, consider where you and your child will be most comfortable – at school, a local pharmacy or with your trusted provider.

To make an appointment at the RRHD clinic at the Reva Fire Department, located at 18230 Birmingham Road, please visit rrhd.org or call 540-308-6072.

Residents may also sign up for appointments at vaccines.gov or call 877-VAX-IN-VA, or contact their child’s healthcare provider.

Millions of people in the United States have received COVID-19 vaccines under the most intense safety monitoring in U.S. history. Pediatric vaccines are the next step to help protect both children and their families.

A Warrenton resident, the writer works as the Rappahannock Rapidan Health District’s population health director.
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