EDITORIAL: Long-awaited COVID vaccine for young children is finally here

·3 min read

Jun. 23—Finally. More than a year after most parents became eligible for COVID vaccines, there is now a version that's been proven safe in clinical trials for children younger than 6.

Vaccination clinics for preschool age children have opened in Sanford and Brunswick, and some pediatricians are already vaccinating. Vaccines will also be distributed through local pharmacies.

This should give families peace of mind when arranging reunions, playdates, outings, daycare and establish immunity before the school year starts in a couple of months.

Parents will know that their children have received the best possible protection against serious illness, and they will be less likely to encounter the virus at all if the adults and other children they encounter have also been vaccinated.

Unfortunately, many parents are hesitant to take advantage of this opportunity.

According to a recent Kaiser Health Poll, only one in five parents say that they plan to vaccinate their children right away. Many say they don't plan to vaccinate their children unless it's required.

Why wouldn't they jump at the opportunity? A number of factors are in play.

With the appearance of new variants, the vaccines do not offer the nearly perfect protection that were originally reported when they were approved for adults in late 2020.

Originally, the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna mRNA vaccines provided 90% protection from infection. With the omicron variants, the protection from infection is slightly more than 50%.

But public health experts and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention point out that the vaccines remain remarkably effective in preventing serious illness and deaths. We can see this in Maine, one of the most vaccinated states in the nation, that while the transmission of the virus that causes COVID is high, hospitalizations are declining.

There also may be hesitancy among parents to get the vaccine because of misinformation that has spread about children and COVID.

Some people believe that children can't get infected. That is just not so.

About 19% of COVID cases involve children, making them as likely as adults to be infected. Children have been less likely to be severely ill, but, just as with adults, underlying conditions play a role. Factors like obesity, diabetes, asthma, congenital heart disease are linked to serious illness and deaths of children.

A child with mild symptoms or even no symptoms can pass a case of COVID on to a vulnerable family member.

And we don't know whether children who have had a mild case may also be vulnerable to the lingering complex of symptoms known as long COVID. The safest course is doing everything reasonable to avoid getting infected in the first place.

Children come into contact with thousands of germs every day. Childhood diseases like measles, mumps and polio used to be mass killers. Even though they are imperfect, widespread use of vaccines has put that history firmly in the past.

We can limit our exposure to COVID, too. But we have to take advantage of the protections that medical science provides.