#childsafety | ‘This is now a preventable death’- POLITICO


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EVERYONE CAN GET A SHOT NOW. WILL THEY? The good news: Vaccines for little kids, the last group of Americans waiting on a Covid shot, are here. Many parents of children under 5 scrambled for appointments with pediatricians and local pharmacies today.

The bad news: Once we get through the initial rush of excitement, the vaccination uptake for the youngest Americans is expected to be even lower than the 29 percent of kids 5 to 11 who have received the shots. Nightly called epidemiologist Katelyn Jetelina, author of the “Your Local Epidemiologist” newsletter, to talk through why she believes in vaccinating young children, and the hurdles ahead for pediatricians as they work to convince parents. This conversation has been edited.

You’re an epidemiologist, and you’re also a mom of two kids under 3. Why did you decide to get them vaccinated? 

I’m with all the other parents trying to scramble to find an appointment for them. But we are going as soon as possible.

This is now a vaccine-preventable disease, specifically against severe disease and death. The other thing was that during the conversations last week, it was incredibly obvious how safe these vaccines are, as well as how effective they are.

What about parents who say, “My kid has already had Covid. Why would they need the vaccine?”

The first thing I always say is that getting your vaccine, even for people who’ve already had Covid, strengthens the immune system. It’s called hybrid immunity, and it’s very protective. It’s very effective for our B-cells, our T-cells, as well as our antibodies.

My girls were infected previously, but a recent study shows that some children actually failed to make antibodies after infection, as well as have mediocre T-cell responses, which is a separate second line of defense. So even if a child is infected, the level of protection isn’t guaranteed.

Kids are less likely to have severe disease. So if a child had a mild infection, which many do, then they’re likely to have a lower viral dose and secondary protection is also less likely.

There’s also discussion about where Covid falls in the rankings of childhood causes of death. What do we know about this, and why is it so difficult to estimate? 

It’s incredibly challenging. There was a preprint that we were discussing on Twitter that showed that, if we add up all cumulative deaths since the beginning of the pandemic, Covid lands among the 4th or 5th leading causes of death for kids under 5.

The challenge is that we haven’t had a year in which we have a “normal life” with Covid, where we don’t have restrictions and we’re not trying to protect our kids. So we don’t know the true toll. So I think the upper bound is the 4 to 5 ranking, and then the lower bound is what we see just in the past 12 months, which is about 6 to 9 ranking.

At least for me as a parent, whether it’s ranked 5th or 8th or 10th or 100th, I will still do so in a heartbeat because this is now a preventable death for my girls. I don’t think we can overstate that.

How concerned are you about uptake in this age group?

The last poll found that about 1 in 5 parents of kids under 5 were going to vaccinate their child right away. Vaccine confidence builds with time. I think that we can build this case for parents as we go.

You seem optimistic that even if just 20 percent of parents get their young kids vaccinated, this will make a difference. 

On an individual level, a vaccine in 1 in 5 under-5-year-olds will help protect them substantially.

Is the best messenger for the vaccine still pediatricians? 

Pediatricians and physicians remain the most trusted source of information for vaccines for parents. Parents also trust local health departments a lot. They trust schools and day cares a lot, and they trust other parents a great deal as well. This has to be a grassroots network of trusted messengers. We have to equip our trusted messengers with evidence-based information, to get to parents, to talk to them, to answer their questions from a place of empathy.

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