MAINE, USA — For about a week, vaccination against COVID-19 has been an option for kids from 5-11 years old, after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention gave its final clearance for Pfizer's kid-sized shots. Some parents still have concerns, though, and an event happening Tuesday evening is designed to address them.
The Maine Community Action Partnership is hosting a forum, "Pediatricians Share: What Parents Need to Know about the COVID-19 Vaccine for Children," via Zoom from 6:15 p.m.-7 p.m. Tuesday Four pediatricians from different hospitals in Maine will speak including:
- Dr. Sydney Sewall, a pediatrician at Maine General Health
- Dr. Michael Ross, a pediatrician at Northern Light Pediatric Primary Care
- Dr. Jillian Gregory, a pediatric critical care physician at Maine Medical Center
- Dr. Gretchen Pianka, a pediatrician at Central Maine Pediatrics
Dr. Sydney Sewall told NEWS CENTER Maine that parents are divided about childhood COVID-19 vaccinations. Some won't be convinced their children should be vaccinated, while others want reassurance it's the right decision. The forum is designed to target a third group of parents: those who are worried about the pandemic but also want to know if vaccination is truly safe and if so when they should do it.
"Kids aren't supposed to die," Sewall said. "I certainly don't want parents to have to experience the anguish of not getting a vaccine [for their child] because they didn't know about it, or they were misinformed by stuff on the Internet, and then get their kid gets sick and has serious complications. That would be really sad."
Data from the CDC indicate there have been about 1.9 million cases of COVID-19 among children from 5-11 years old, a problem that has grown because of the Delta variant. As of mid-October, there had been more than 8,300 hospitalizations related to COVID-19 in that age range, and about 500 kids have died so far. Sewall said the vaccine doesn't stop kids from getting COVID-19, but it does make them less likely to get sick and spread the virus to others.
Dr. Laura Blaisdell is vice president of the Maine chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics and has been an organizer for Tuesday's forum. She said parents have had a few common questions like why pediatricians think the vaccine is necessary for kids, whether children who get it will have any side effects, and why pediatricians feel so confident recommending vaccinations for kids. Those are all questions she expects will be answered Tuesday.
"On our social media channels, on the news, we see frank lies about this vaccine, and so we want to make sure that parents have access to people who care about kids, care about the big picture," said Blaisdell. "The goal, of course, is children's health, and pediatricians across the state of Maine do support the use of the COVID-19 vaccine among children but ultimately, we want parents to make a really well-informed decision for their family."
Blaisdell reiterated that COVID-19 does infect children, and more than 140,000 caregivers have died during the pandemic, but she also said vaccination plays a role in mental health, too.
"We have a mental health crisis in pediatrics," Blaisdell explained. "We've seen devastating elevations in depression and suicidality and anxiety in children, and the remedy for this is to get their lives back to normal. Vaccination will allow schools to remain in session. It will allow sports teams to not have to quarantine and that is perhaps, for me, one of the most compelling reasons to get all children vaccinated so that they can go back to having a normal life."
Blaisdell described childhood COVID-19 vaccinations as a "lightning-rod issue", so she encourages parents to attend Tuesday's event. You can register for the forum here.