I was in the pediatrician’s office, bouncing my second daughter in a football hold. At four weeks, her tiny torso barely covered the length of my forearm. In the light of the doctor’s office her pale skin and red hair looked more perfect than ever, and she was sound asleep, limbs hanging limp, fulling trusting me to keep her safe.
In that moment, I understood for the first time why so many parents are afraid to choose vaccines for thier children.
I knew that in a minute, a nurse would come bustle in, and poke my baby. I didn’t want to watch her in pain, and in that perfect moment when she was sleeping in my arms it seemed absurd to think that she needed anything other than me to keep her safe. “I get it,” I thought.
When the nurse did enter the room, my logical brain kicked in. I know that vaccines are incredibly effective at preventing disease, and that complications from vaccines are exceedingly rare. As a child of the 80s my husband was a magnet for every illness from scarlet fever to measles, and I wasn’t about to let a child with his genes walk around unprotected. So, I held my daughter as she got her shots, and even talked to the doctor about bumping up her next round so that she’d have the essentials before we travelled internationally.
In the media and in mommy groups, discussions about vaccines are portrayed as black and white: either you’re pro-science, or you’re an anti-vaxxer. But research shows that really, most parents are much more in the middle ground. A study published this month found that 20-26% of American parents are “hesitant” about vaccinating their kids. That has a real effect on children’s health: the same study found that while 67% of kids whose parents had no hesitation were vaccinated for the flu, only 41% of kids whose parents were hesitant received the vaccine.
I understand hesitation — I truly do. In that moment at the pediatrician’s office I hesitated, every so slightly. But I was able to move beyond that because I have seen the science, I have talked to doctors I trust, and I know that vaccinating is a good choice for my children’s health.
It’s important to note that the study found that vaccine hesitation was lower in 2019 than it was in 2018, which scientists said was encouraging. However, we’re on the cusp of what will likely be the biggest vaccine push of any of our lifetimes. And when a COVID vaccine does become available, it’s efficacy at a societal level could be undermined if parents aren’t willing to have their children get the vaccine.
There’s not much data on how parents are thinking about the COVID vaccine. A small study of 1,100 households found that overall, 63% of American parents planned to have their children vaccinated, with older parents more likely than younger parents to be in favor of the vaccine. That study was conducted in July, before early results showed promising efficacy for coronavirus vaccines.
I’ll admit, when I think about giving my daughters, or myself for that matter, a vaccine that was recently developed, I have a moment of hesitancy. We have decades of science showing us the MMR vaccine is safe, but we won’t have that for the coronavirus vaccine. But in my reporting about the virus and vaccine race, I’ve heard scientists and drug developers say again and again, the vaccine will be safe. Warp speed will not result in cutting corners.
It’s always easier to convince yourself not to do something, than it is to convince yourself to take action. The status quo is familiar, and sometimes breaking it can leave us hesitant.But despite that, I know that when the COVID vaccine is approved and available, my girls and I will be there, ready to roll up our sleeves.
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