“Herd immunity”—we’ve heard it over and over throughout this past year. We hope for it, we are closer to getting it, but do we even understand what it means? And is it truly even possible to attain when so many stubborn Sallys still refuse to listen to science, get vaccinated, and wear masks?
Here’s what the experts say. (You know, those super smart people who have devoted their careers to medicine and research and saving lives, not your Fox News-loving neighbor Bob who writes things like “these libs are taking my freedums” on Facebook.)
Firstly, what is herd immunity? According to Mayo Clinic, “Herd immunity occurs when a large portion of a community (the herd) becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person unlikely. As a result, the whole community becomes protected — not just those who are immune.”
And yes, this feat is possible, but we need more people to get vaccinated. And with so many adults adamantly refusing, that means we need kids to get their shots too.
“In many places, adults are delaying vaccination, and surveys show that one-fifth are outright refusing it,” The Atlantic reports. “If large numbers of people continue in the latter mindset, vaccinating children will be central to any hope of reaching herd immunity.”
Because here’s what we know: kids can transmit this virus, so having herds of unvaccinated kids milling about, in close proximity to one another, then going home to their families, remains a risk, especially if some adults at home aren’t vaccinated either. Also, the whole “kids can’t get really sick with Covid-19” mindset is a myth. Statistically, younger people may have fared better than the elderly or immunocompromised when it comes to this pandemic, but kids can and do become gravely ill. Stories continue to circulate about children who have been hospitalized, had long-lasting symptoms, or worse, have passed away after contracting Covid. And we still do not know the long-term effects on the body—in both adults and children—that this disease can cause.
So yes, for a variety of reasons, for not only their health but the greater health of society, we need to get as many kids vaccinated as possible. And soon.
However, parents are hesitant, in part because they don’t feel like they know much about the vaccine. But medical experts are also attributing this anti-pediatric-vaccine sentiment to a misunderstanding of the risks this virus poses to children.
Yes, the chances of a child being deathly ill with Covid-19 are far less than they are for adults. But, The Atlantic says we should view pediatric deaths not in “relative terms,” but rather in “absolute, concrete terms.”
“Hundreds of children have died of a preventable disease, and thousands have become seriously ill,” the article reports. “It’s difficult to know the exact number of children who have been hospitalized because of COVID-19, but some 14,000 have been counted across just the 24 states that publicly release those numbers. The total for the U.S. would be far higher. More than 3,000 have developed a serious complication known as multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children, or MIS-C, in the weeks after having had COVID-19.”
Paul Spearman, director of the infectious-diseases division at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, adds that “The numbers of kids who’ve been hospitalized and died is significant and concerning.”
Furthermore, this virus continues to evolve and change, but vaccines have been proving themselves effective against new variants, making protecting our kids against the unknown that more crucial. In fact, a January study revealed that “the rate of hospitalization among people under 19 had increased more than eightfold over the course of the pandemic.”
The article shares this alarming statistic: “Of those kids who do require hospitalization, roughly one-third go to the intensive-care unit. And the percentage of hospitalized COVID-19 patients who are children has risen from 0.8 percent last May to 2 percent now.”
So no, young people aren’t immune to Covid. And yes, they need to be vaccinated, as Covid is now affecting young people more than ever before.
Another perspective—courtesy of The New England Journal of Medicine—offers these chilling words:
“Imagine a highly contagious virus circulating in the community. Many infected children have fever and some general misery but recover without incident. Rarely, devastating complications occur, leading to hospitalization, severe illness, and occasional deaths. Susceptible adults fare worse, with higher rates of poor outcomes. Would you want your child vaccinated against this disease? … You guessed we were talking about measles, right?”
But we’re not. Because we already vaccinate our kids for the measles—another disease that some kids fly through with little consequence, and others die from. A disease that had literally been eradicated thanks to a vaccine.
This article, written by Perri Klass, M.D., and Adam J. Ratner, M.D., M.P.H. (experts in pediatrics and infectious diseases) explains that “Vaccinating children is likely to have benefits both direct (protecting children against rare severe pediatric cases of Covid-19 and postinfectious conditions such as multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children [MIS-C]) and indirect (protecting others by reducing spread). Those “indirect” benefits also reduce the family toll of parental illness, failing economies, and chronic stress.”
Dr. Klass and Ratner also discuss the history of the measles vaccine, and how many parents years ago hesitated or refused to let their kids receive it, despite being far more supportive of the polio vaccine. The reason? Kids usually survived the measles. Sound familiar?
And yet, here we are again, with a vaccine on the horizon that could protect our kids and help propel our world back into some semblance of normalcy, but large percentages of parents are saying they won’t let their kids get the shot. So that “normalcy” and that “herd immunity” might continue to be a pipe dream. And that is, frankly, devastating.
“Today, many Americans express mistrust regarding the safety of Covid-19 vaccines,” The New England Journal of Medicine says. “This attitude is unsurprising in an environment where mask wearing is politicized and loud voices on social media express doubt about the severity — or even existence — of SARS-CoV-2.”
So we need to be louder than those spreading misinformation. We need to continue to spread the facts, the medical research, the testimonies from pediatricians, from infectious disease specialists, who vouch for the effectiveness and safety of this Covid vaccine.
Doctors like infectious disease specialist Camille Sabella, MD, who says, “From the reports so far, it appears that not only does the vaccine elicit a good immune response, but it was very, very safe for the children and adolescents.” A vaccine that, to date, is showing “100% efficacy and robust antibody responses.”
Dr. Sabella goes on to say, “Children’s immune systems, including very young children, generally have vigorous responses to vaccines which is quite remarkable. It appears to be no different with this COVID-19 vaccine. Now, there will be ongoing trials with both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines down to six months of age, and I expect that these will be equally effective even in the youngest children as well.”
To sum it up, the Covid vaccine is safe. It works. And we need to get more shots in arms—arms of all ages—if we truly want to go back to the lives we lived before.