Terry H. Schwadron
Oct. 13, 2021
The looming covid fight is about vaccinating children, and all indications are that it will be ugly.
While tens of millions of parents, likely those who got vaccines themselves, will line up their children under 12 to protect themselves and school classmates against contagion, polls, experience, and logic show that resistance to vaccination and denial of a medical emergency will make jabbing the young even more an emotional confusion than it has been with adults.
Of course, even as we say this, we’re still seeing plenty of fight over mandates for adults, now sparked anew by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott throwing his state in front of the perceived federal bulldozer for mandates by companies. None of this will help anyone medically, but apparently, there is always political gain to consider as more important.
Pfizer says its bid is ready for FDA emergency use of a vaccine for children aged 5 to 11. A decision could come early next month on a vaccine that is about one-third of the adult dosage, depending on what formulation is submitted for review.
Reason tells us that the one-third of American adults who have turned away from free vaccines will block them for their children. A recent poll published by CBS News and YouGov suggests that roughly as many parents who plan on vaccinating their younger children say they don’t want their kids to receive the jab, with about a quarter of respondents saying they are undecided. There were similar results from Kaiser Family Foundation survey.
Indeed, it is a mainstay argument for anti-vax campaigns and Donald Trump that children rarely become ill from covid-19 — despite recent localized spirals of cases, hospitalizations, and deaths.
From what we’ve seen as a massively adverse response in Republican-led states to mask advice and mandates, we can already anticipate a fight over anything approaching mandates from the federal, state, or local governments — all of which back current vaccines for measles, mumps, rubella, and diphtheria to enroll in public schools.
Are Children at Risk?
To the rest of us, the idea that our kids can be protected and that classrooms can operate more safely sounds like a godsend.
While young children had been thought less affected by covid, the last couple of months with the Delta variant showed differently. Nearly 30,000 children were hospitalized in August. The American Academy of Pediatrics says nearly 5.9 million Americans younger than 18 have been infected with the coronavirus. Of the roughly 500 Americans under 18 who have died, about 125 were ages 5 to 11. Children and adolescents who prove positive often are asymptomatic more than adults, studies have shown.
Schools opened across the country only to see closings days later from covid contagion.
Meanwhile, anti-vax parents have been haranguing schoolteachers, principals, and school boards over proposed mask mandates, with pockets of violent clashes spreading over what now has become a coordinated political cause. The reasons for resisting include uncertainty about the long-term medical side effects of vaccine as well as an insistence on “individual choice” that translates into a “no” choice in real life.
For myself, I wouldn’t want to take the chance of serious illness — that would be my choice, mandate, or no.
In Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Tennessee, less than a third of eligible adolescents aged 12–16 are fully vaccinated, according to a CNN analysis, as do North Dakota, West Virginia, and Wyoming. Clearly, the same state divides that have shown up for adults are true for younger populations as well.
That CBS poll found that a majority of parents of school-aged kids — 55 percent — say they believe that wearing masks should be required in schools. Some 39% percent said masks in schools should be optional, while 6% said masks shouldn’t be allowed there.
In the end, of course, covid is reflecting political divides over trust in government and over a perceived attack on who should make our public health choices.
The Washington Post reports that within days of regulators clearing the nation’s first covid vaccine for younger children, federal officials will begin pushing out as many as 20 million doses. The government has purchased enough doses to give two shots, all specially color-coded to distinguish them, to all 28 million eligible children, another massive distribution push. The dosages will be distributed in accord with a state’s population of eligible children.
The issue, however, will be to persuade reluctant parents. Figuring out distribution paths when eligibility does not match acceptance of vaccines is an administrative headache, of course.
In Wisconsin this week, two families sued the state for failing to provide protections against the covid contagion that struck their children. That’s ominous.
Once again, there is an opportunity before us for leaders of states and government, churches, and schools, to promote “choice” of a covid vaccine that can prevent hospitalization and death. But don’t count on it coming across that way.
It’s a lot more comforting to a vocal unmasked, unvaccinated minority to yell and threaten local school board members than to worry about actual disease spreading.