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Some readers are hesitant to vaccinate their young children. Here’s why this doctor says they should.

“Getting my little guy vaccinated is, to me, the same kind of thing as putting him in a car seat. It’s the least I can do to protect him,” Dr. Megan Ranney said.

Jon Cherry
U.S. health officials on Tuesday gave the final signoff to Pfizer’s kid-size COVID-19 shot. Jon Cherry

As of Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cleared the path for children ages 5 to 11 to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, giving parents across the country the opportunity to provide their children increased protection against the virus. 

We asked Boston.com readers last week what it would mean to them once the CDC gave a final recommendation for this age group, and many of the 160 readers who responded to our survey expressed reservations about vaccinating their young children. 

“I will not have my children vaccinated until the vaccine receives full approval,” said a reader from Charlestown, who was one of 46% of readers who said they wouldn’t be vaccinating their children. “The data shows that the risk to otherwise healthy children is low and I want to wait until testing has been complete on a much larger pool of children.”

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The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine received full approval from the Food and Drug Administration in August of this year and continues to be administered to anyone ages 12 and up. Now that the CDC recommends it for 5- to 11-year-olds, those children could receive their first dose this week

Dr. Megan Ranney, the emergency room physician and director of the Brown Lifespan Center for Digital Health, told Boston.com she understands why parents would be initially hesitant about getting their children vaccinated. What some call vaccine hesitancy, she calls “having normal questions.”

“As a parent myself, I know that my top priority is my kid’s safety. It’s normal to want to ask questions and understand how well something works before doing it,” she said. “I think about the hours I spent researching car seats, strollers, and cribs for my kids — it is normal to have the same kinds of questions about these vaccines.”

Ranney said she would remind parents still on the fence about vaccinating that the virus is dangerous, even for kids. She also notes that the “dose being given to young kids is much lower than the dose for older kids.”

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Ranney has already scheduled her 10-year-old son for his vaccine.

“Every other doctor and public health professional I know has done the same,” she said. “Getting my little guy vaccinated is, to me, the same kind of thing as putting him in a car seat. It’s the least I can do to protect him.”

Like Ranney, several Boston.com readers plan to get their young children vaccinated as soon as possible. Heading into the holiday season and cold weather months, many parents said it would give them peace of mind as they spend more time indoors at school and with friends and family. 

“I can’t wait to get my three young children vaccinated. Like everyone, our last 18 months have looked much different than they would have otherwise,” said Janna from Needham. “We’ve held our girls back from many activities, and have limited time in school to make sure we’re keeping them and those around us safe. Getting them vaccinated will be one more step in the right direction towards moving society back to a more ‘normal’ environment.”

Lyndsay from Quincy said she’s excited to be able to see certain family members for the first time since the start of the pandemic. 

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“We will be able to see my family overseas, including a new baby niece, for the first time in two years. We also canceled a long-awaited Disney trip earlier this fall and it would be great to go,” she said. “Just being able to resume more normal activities like going to restaurants and seeing friends without having to do some mental calculations about risk would be amazing.”

Boston.com readers who said they wouldn’t be getting their children vaccinated, expressed common reasons for their uncertainty. As Massachusetts gets ready to start administering the vaccine to young children, we asked Dr. Ranney some of our readers’ biggest concerns. 

Is having natural immunity a good reason not to vaccinate?

“My two youngest sons and husband tested positive within 15 days. My oldest son, and myself, never tested positive nor showed symptoms after being exposed three separate times through my two youngest and husband. If he already seems immune, I’ll hold off. My husband and I have been vaccinated, however.” — Hannah, Framingham

“An increasing number of studies are showing that natural immunity is not as protective as vaccines,” Ranney said. 

One study by the CDC found that unvaccinated people are more than twice as likely to be reinfected with COVID-19 than those who were fully vaccinated against the virus. Another study, published last week, found that vaccination provides a “higher, more robust, and more consistent level of immunity to protect people from COVID-19 than infection alone.”

“Vaccination protects not just your kid from COVID but also protects your family and your community, and it helps keep your kid in school. Fully vaccinated children don’t have to quarantine. So there are lots of benefits outside of the direct health benefit,” she said. 

Some readers shared that young children aren’t as affected by the virus and don’t spread it as much as adults do. Is this true?

“My children got COVID over the summer. It manifested as a mild cold that lasted 3 days.  It was one of the most inconsequential illnesses they have ever had. If the vaccines had the ability to stop the spread, I would consider it. However, we’ve been told the vaccine does little beyond protecting the individual receiving the shot. Given my children’s history, they don’t need that protection.” — Anonymous

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While it is true that young children are less likely than adults to suffer severe infections, Ranney said it’s important for parents to remember that COVID-19 is “still one of the top ten causes of death for American youth.”

“It has caused tens of thousands of kids to be hospitalized, and even more to get long COVID symptoms,” she said. “Unfortunately, kids do spread it, and in fact, in some countries such as the United Kingdom, it’s thought that they’re currently the primary driver of continued community spread.”

Other readers are concerned about the vaccine’s ‘unknown long-term side effects.’ Why should they vaccinate their children despite this?

“I will not have my young child vaccinated. He is a healthy boy. He has near negligible risk from COVID. All of his family and friends that are at risk are vaccinated. Young children are not efficient spreaders of this disease as well. So I am stuck with a choice to give a vaccine that has been proven to be safe in the short term, with unknown long-term side effects, or live with the near-zero chance that my child has a bad reaction to COVID-19.” — Mark, Worcester

“Any vaccine’s effects are seen in the first days after administration. Any side effects would be quickly identified,” said Ranney, “We have almost two years of data on the earliest recipients of the vaccines, in addition to the hundreds of millions of doses administered in the past year, increasing our confidence in safety.” 

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In Massachusetts, 4.7 million people have been fully vaccinated, including more than 209,000 children ages 12 to 15. Now that the CDC has approved the vaccine for children ages 5 to 11, children nationwide will soon be receiving their first dose. 

“These vaccines are exceptionally well-tested in general and have been given to literally hundreds of millions of people across the globe. Their safety, as well as their efficacy, is well-established,” Ranney said, adding that the alternative to not vaccinating is the risk of contracting the virus. 

“I would remind parents that we do know that COVID itself causes a lot of long-term side effects, including myocarditis, decreased sperm counts, hurting the kidney and the brain. [The virus] causes a host of other horrid — but preventable — effects,” she said. “Knowing the very real, well-demonstrated safety and efficacy of the vaccines, and the real, well-demonstrated lack of safety and long-term harm from COVID itself, it becomes an easier decision.”

Boston.com occasionally interacts with readers by conducting informal polls and surveys. These results should be read as an unscientific gauge of readers’ opinion.

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