When COVID-19 restrictions began loosening a few months ago, my entire family was so excited and beyond ready to begin having a social life again. This meant I could take my four-year-old daughter to the zoo, her first-ever movie at a theater, and we could go out to eat dinner at a restaurant as a family.
Since my husband and I are fully vaccinated, we felt comfortable doing these activities. But with no vaccine yet available for children younger than age 12, we are still constantly wearing our masks and using hand sanitizer in an effort to protect our daughter from this disease.
Rethinking Social Plans
Now enter the Delta, Lambda and various other variants – dangerous mutations of the original virus that are spreading like wildfire. The more prominent Delta variant is the most severe one yet and likened to being as contagious as chickenpox, according to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (I don’t know about you, but I remember how awful chickenpox were and am beyond grateful that there is a vaccine for chickenpox that will prevent my child from ever experiencing those itchy, red spots.)
With these new COVID-19 variants circulating in our communities, I’m having to rethink my family’s social activities. Is it safe to take my child grocery shopping? Should I not go to an indoor restaurant again? How much do I need to pull back on our social plans? These are incredibly difficult decisions for our family to make after being holed up in our house for the past year and a half. But it looks like we’ll be holing up once again if things continue to get worse and people refuse to get vaccinated.
What frustrates and angers me the most is that we likely wouldn’t be in this situation if more people had gotten vaccinated in the first place. Think about it – if everyone who could have been vaccinated got vaccinated at the start of this mess, then people wouldn’t have gotten the disease and the virus wouldn’t have mutated into the dumpster fire of death and destruction that it is now. And I wouldn’t be fearing for my daughter’s life.
Delta Variant Attacks Young People
What makes the Delta variant even more scary is its affinity for younger people – especially those who are ages 18-49 per the CDC’s weekly data updates – and even small children who are my daughter’s age are coming down with the disease and being hospitalized.
Nick Sawyer, emergency medicine doctor at UC Davis Health in California, said he is seeing more and more children in the emergency department who’ve tested positive for COVID-19 and the commonality among them all is that their parents and family members are not vaccinated.
“We had one case recently where the child’s mother was vaccinated, but her boyfriend refused to be vaccinated. Lo and behold her child came into the hospital and tested positive for the coronavirus,” Sawyer said. “We’re also seeing healthy, unvaccinated people in their 20s and 30s who are coming to the emergency department in severe respiratory distress with severe lung injuries due to the coronavirus. Our intensive care units are filling up again quickly and these people are all going to have long-term complications from the disease.”
“As the mother of three children who aren’t old enough to be vaccinated, I’m extremely concerned about the prevalence of the Delta variant and I worry every shift that I may expose my children even though I am vaccinated,” Magaña said. “Health care providers throughout the world are exhausted from battling this disease for more than a year now, and we continue to see so many families impacted.”
Magaña said children are not immune to COVID-19 and can still die or have complications from the disease, including long-haul COVID or prolonged symptoms.
“It frustrates me to know there is an available solution and yet many who can and should be a part of the solution are not. My kids can’t get vaccinated yet. I still have to go to work to be there for your sick children, but you can be a part of the solution by getting vaccinated,” Magaña said.
Vaccinations Are Lagging
About 4 billion of the world’s 7.9 billion people have been vaccinated and while that seems like an impressive number, only about 1 billion are fully vaccinated and have received both doses of the two-dose vaccines. The statistics are similar when we look at vaccination rates just in the United States – only about 50% of the population is fully vaccinated and most of those vaccinated are white people in more affluent communities.
U.S. data shows that Black, Hispanic, Latino, indigenous and other people of color have not received vaccinations at the same rate as their white counterparts. There are many reasons for this, but the main ones appear to be access issues and mistrust stemming from systemic racism and ongoing social and economic injustices. Rollout to marginalized communities hasn’t been what it should be either, and the investment in vaccine distribution in these areas leaves much to be desired. Plus, there are additional complicating factors – the digital divide and lack of broadband internet access, the inability to get time off or childcare to go get a vaccine, no access to transportation and a lack of appropriate and culturally sensitive community outreach. Because of all of these factors, people of color are dying at disproportionate rates and are at a greater risk for contracting the virus.
White adults, especially in rural America, are still accounting for high numbers of unvaccinated people. More than half of white adults (57%) remain unvaccinated, and white Americans make up more of the national population. Unlike Black and Hispanic people, this isn’t entirely lack of access or socioeconomic. It’s flat out refusal. White, evangelicals (especially Trump supporters) aren’t getting the vaccine, no matter what.
Sawyer said he’s had many conversations with patients who are hesitant to get the vaccine or have heard false information about it, but that it boils down to the fact that contracting COVID-19 is much riskier than getting a vaccine.
“The vaccines are safe, the vaccines are effective,” Sawyer said. “You’ve got to think about the kids at this point. I can’t make an argument that should be more compelling to you as a human being than to get vaccinated to protect our children.”
Kara Toles, emergency medicine doctor at UC Davis Health in California, agreed. She said it’s true that there have been what they call “breakthrough cases,” where people who have been vaccinated have subsequently contracted the Delta variant, but that those cases are far less prominent.
“While no vaccine is 100% effective, there is evidence that people with breakthrough cases of the disease aren’t getting as sick as those who are unvaccinated and usually aren’t requiring hospitalization or intensive care,” Toles said. “The best protection from the coronavirus and its variants is vaccination.”
Get Vaccinated, Already!
My husband and I got vaccinated as soon as we were eligible, but I’m disappointed to report that we have close friends and family members who still have not been vaccinated. I’ve heard it all, from “I’m just not that worried about it” to “I’m going to wait until the vaccine isn’t in trial anymore.” Seriously? Billions of people have been vaccinated and more than 4 million people have died globally during the pandemic. It’s something to be worried about and act on.
And if you’re concerned about the vaccines being used under emergency use authorization from the United States Food and Drug Administration, please do yourself a favor and read up on all the clinical trials that have taken place and the actual process of how manufactures develop and test vaccines. It’s way more comprehensive and involved than most people believe it is, and I promise you these aren’t some willy-nilly shots being cooked up in someone’s backyard laboratory.
Continuing to be unvaccinated at a time like this is like playing Russian roulette. So now is the time my friends to get it over with and go get that arm jab. Protect yourself, your family and our children. Visit vaccines.gov to find a COVID-19 vaccine near you.