By Rebecca Gaunt
The only people possibly cheering louder than Atlanta Braves fans Tuesday night were the parents who have been impatiently waiting for approval of the COVID-19 vaccine for their kids.
Presumably, some were cheering for both as they hit the refresh button on their computers, waiting for new pediatric appointments for ages 5 to 11 to load, and the team clinched the World Series against the Houston Astros in game six.
Micheal Garza, a North Cobb resident, is deeply relieved, even though his daughter Emma won’t turn five for two more months. But it’s still the light at the end of the tunnel Garza and many other parents have waited for.
A high school friend of Garza’s spent several weeks on a ventilator in the early days of COVID-19. Another friend was put in a medically-induced coma when he developed COVID-19-related pneumonia. His mother-in-law has health issues and lives with the family. They took the pandemic very seriously right from the start with no indoor dining, grocery delivery, and virtual preschool.
Emma’s parents reluctantly sent her back to school this year, but worried about the lack of a mask requirement.
“We made the decision to send her anyway, but worried about it every day until the teachers decided to mask a few weeks in. We realize the risk of a serious outcome for her age is low, but there are still a lot of unknowns about the longer-term effects of COVID-19 and the damage it can do in the body,” Garza said.
Tuesday, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky endorsed the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices’ (ACIP) 14-0 recommendation to vaccinate children ages 5 to 11 with the Pfizer-BioNTech pediatric vaccine. Last week, the FDA’s advisory committee approved the emergency use authorization 17-0 with one abstention. The dose for this age group is a third of what is given to people 12 and up.
“This expands vaccine recommendations to over 28M kids in US & now allows providers to begin vaccinating them,” Walensky tweeted Tuesday night.
In a second tweet, she added that distribution started this week and will be available at full capacity next week.
Rachel Lekherzak’s family had COVID-19 in the early days of the pandemic.
“It was terrible. I would not wish it on my worst enemy. The only reason I didn’t end up in the hospital was because I already have inhaled steroids for my asthma and I was taking every possible step to stay ahead of the illness. There were days I could barely walk, let alone parent my kids who were 4 and 3 at the time,” Lekherzak said.
Lekherzak, who lives on the edge of East Cobb/Marietta, said her family has stayed home for the most part other than school. She said her daughter has missed more school than she has attended, and she is extremely critical of Cobb County School District’s handling of the pandemic this year. Visits with the grandparents take place outside and vacations are on hold.
Her daughter will get her first dose Monday at Viral Solutions.
“I’m worried they will have a big reaction like I did to my second dose since we’ve had COVID before. But it’s worth it to go through a few days feeling rotten to protect them from serious complications in the future,” she said.
Although Walensky signed off late Tuesday, Stacy Efrat’s 7-year-old son Jake had his first dose within an hour of the East Cobb Viral Solutions opening Wednesday. Anne Howard said both her first and third graders were in line at CHOA Scottish Rite by 7:40 a.m. Wednesday and had already gotten their first shots shortly after 8 a.m.
Appointments have also opened at CVS Pharmacies, select Publix locations, and Walgreens, though the first shots won’t be given until the weekend. Some parents have reported that their pediatrician’s offices are referring them to local pharmacies because they are still waiting on shipments.
Laura Judge’s daughter Zion has been attending second grade via Georgia Cyber Academy and her son Alex attends sixth grade online through Georgia Connections. If the COVID numbers stay down, she hopes they will return face to face at their East Cobb schools once vaccinated.
“It has been proven to be a safe and effective vaccine,” Judge told the Courier. “I’ve spoken to my children’s pediatrician and she recommends it. I want to not only protect my children from long-term effects of COVID, but I would also like to protect myself (immunocompromised) and family members that may be high risk.”
A recent poll from Kaiser Family Foundation indicates that the enthusiasm of these parents is not necessarily the norm. The results show 27% of parents plan to get their children vaccinated right away, 33% are adopting a wait-and-see approach, 5% will only do it if required, and 30% have no intention of vaccinating their children.
Acworth resident Suzanne Wooley is ready for the relief of getting two of her three kids vaccinated. Though they won’t be able to completely drop their precautions due to the youngest child, she said it will lessen her anxiety.
“Our children made tremendous sacrifices the first year of the pandemic to keep adults safe – virtual school, no playdates, canceled extracurriculars, missing milestones with grandparents. It’s their turn to get the same protection we have been afforded,” Wooley said.
Rebecca Gaunt earned a degree in journalism from the University of Georgia and a master’s degree in education from Oglethorpe University. After teaching elementary school for several years, she returned to writing. She lives in Marietta with her husband, son, two cats, and a dog. In her spare time, she loves to read, binge Netflix and travel.