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Parents discuss child vaccine

With local children ages 5-11 now eligible for the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, local families are discussing whether or not their young ones will roll up their sleeves and receive the shot.

According to data from the Virginia Department of Health, as of Nov. 18, 249 children in the Piedmont Health District ages 5-11 have already gotten their first dose. That represents 3.4% of the age group. Approximately 2,918 local children between 4-17 have gotten the vaccine, or 20.9%.

In Prince Edward County, some 75 children ages 5-11, or 5.6% of the age group, have gotten the first dose, while 217 total children ages 5-17, or 24.1%, have gotten their first dose.

While the number of vaccinated youth in the area continues to increase, residents vary in their opinions of the child vaccine.

Melizza Stoltzfus of Prince Edward County has four children ranging in age from 11 months to 5 years old. She says she has no plans of getting her children vaccinated.

“I believe in a God-given immune system, and I feel that vaccinating a child for a virus that has almost a 0% chance of fatality is something that my children don’t need,” Stoltzfus said.

Meghan DuFrain, a Cumberland resident, said she has three children ages 5, 6 and 10. DuFrain stated her whole family has been anxiously awaiting the vaccine’s approval for the 5-11 age group.

“Compared to the potential side effects from COVID-19, it was a no-brainer for us to vaccinate ourselves (including boosters) and vaccinate our children as soon as they were eligible,” DuFrain said. “They were very excited to get their first dose (although my youngest had her usual issues of fearing the actual shot). No one experienced any side effects from their vaccination, and we can’t wait for the second dose … The vaccine has proven to be extremely safe and effective — how could I not give that to my children?”

Heather Holt of Charlotte County has two children ages 20 and 10. She said her 20-year-old made the decision not to get vaccinated, and she doesn’t plan on the 10-year-old getting the shot either.

“I feel like this vaccine was thrown together too quickly without enough research, and I don’t plan on exposing myself or my children to something that hasn’t gone through the long term effects stages necessary to provide me enough confidence in it to give it to my kids,” Holt said. “Both my children have been a part of the vaccination conversation in our household, and neither has any desire to get the shot based on the information we’ve provided for them. I have not spoke to my pediatrician about the vaccine and feel pretty certain that regardless of the conversation, my views will not change. We are not an anti-vaccination household, and both my kids were fully vaccinated as children. At this point in this pandemic, I am just anti-COVID vaccine.”

Mandy Parker of New Canton said her 10-year-old son will not be getting vaccinated under any circumstances.

“I have not spoken to his doctor about the vaccine,” Parker said. “I won’t take the vaccine myself, as I don’t trust it. There has not been enough research, and we do not know the long term effects, so I feel like giving it to a child is using them as an experiment, and I will not subject my child or myself to this vaccine.

Piedmont Health District Director Dr. Maria Almond, whose children have already gotten their first dose, said that while children are at a lower risk of becoming severely ill with COVID-19, they can still become infected and spread the virus to others or potentially become very sick themselves.

“Children are still at risk for short and long-term complications related to COVID-19, such as multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MIS-C),” Almond said. “And vaccinating allows for children to avoid the many disruptions that a single exposure can cause. Vaccinating keeps our children in school and our teachers safe; vaccinating keeps our children on the baseball and soccer fields, on the basketball courts and in the gyms, in the dance studio and on the stage; vaccinating protects our families and our front line.”

Almond said the Pfizer vaccine has an impressive safety record, noting over 260 million people in the U.S. have already received the vaccine. Now, 2.6 million children ages 5-11 have received their first dose.

“Nearly 4,500 children were involved in the Pfizer vaccination study to look at safety and efficacy,” Almond noted. “No cases of severe illness or heart concerns were found in the original study. Extremely rare side effects may be uncovered as we expand vaccination, but these risks are minimal compared with the threat of COVID itself. I urge each family to take a moment to consider vaccination.”

Almond said that as a parent herself, she understands concerns parents might have for their child and a novel vaccine.

“It is always important to ask questions and seek answers,” Almond emphasized. “For those that continue to have questions, please sit down with your trusted pediatrician or call your local health district.”