Parents across the U.S celebrated earlier this week when an advisory panel to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) greenlit the use of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for children between the ages of 5 and 11. The FDA is expected to issue an emergency-use authorization for the vaccine in this age group shortly, and, if it's given the thumbs-up by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 5- to 11-year-olds across the country could start receiving vaccinations as early as next week.
Parents who plan to get their children vaccinated say they have big plans for celebrating this milestone after more than a year and a half of restricted living.
Colorado mom Jennifer Knowles tells Yahoo Life that she already has a list of things she wants to do with her family once her 5-, 7- and 10-year-olds are vaccinated. "Immediately, we'll be going to an indoor gym with bouncy castles, bouncy balls, slides and ropes courses," she said. "We stopped going to indoor places where kids congregate once COVID began." Knowles says she'll also sign up her kids for indoor sports like karate and swim lessons, which they stopped doing once the pandemic began. They even have a trip planned. "In early December, we're going to Disney World. We already have the plane flights," she said.
Missouri dad Mike Vietti tells Yahoo Life that his family is excited to get their 7-year-old daughter vaccinated. "We haven't had any preventative measures beyond face masks [for kids], and that's very much limited what we've done as a family since the outset of the pandemic — more or less, only eating at restaurants with outdoor seating, fairly limited indoor activities, et cetera," he says. "Our 7-year old receiving the vaccine will likely mean a mostly 'normal' life after she receives the shot. And we will most definitely celebrate by giving her a big ice cream sundae. Then we plan on visiting my wife's 90-year old grandparents in Cincinnati right before Thanksgiving. We haven't seen them in two-plus years because of the pandemic."
Michelle Glogovac, mom to a 5- and 6-year-old in Northern California, tells Yahoo Life that she and her husband are "beyond excited" to get their children vaccinated. "I know there is also going to be a huge sense of relief for me as a mom," she says. "When we were vaccinated, I cried tears of joy, and knowing that in a matter of weeks they'll be able to get their first shot, already brings me to tears. There has been an internal worry and stress that oftentimes I'm not even aware of over not knowing if they will get COVID and become sick." Glogovac says her family will "definitely feel more comfortable" with her kids wearing masks less outdoors (masks are still mandated indoors in San Jose, Calif. where she lives). "Our children are also very excited to receive this extra layer of protection and have been so fantastic about always wearing their masks and utterly never complaining about it, whether in school or at soccer practice."
Lynn Howard, a Delaware mom, tells Yahoo Life that she and her husband are already planning a trip with their 6- and 9-year-old, noting that they want to take "a family vacation — via plane — to Disney World." They're also excited about going to the movies again, she says, although they'll be wearing masks as an added precaution.
Dr. Emmy Betz, an emergency medicine physician and mom to a 9- and 11-year-old in Colorado, tells Yahoo Life that her kids are "excited for the shot!" Once her kids are fully vaccinated, Betz says they'll do all the things they've missed out on recently, including sleepovers, eating out indoors and taking trips to Denver's arts and entertainment venue Meow Wolf.
It's important to note that not every family plans to get their 5- to 11-year-olds vaccinated immediately. In fact, less than 30 percent say they'll get their kids vaccinated as soon as it becomes available. A recent survey from the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 27 percent of parents who have children in this age group plan to vaccinate them as soon as it's authorized. A third of parents say they'll wait for a while to see how the vaccine works, while 30 percent say they will definitely not get the vaccine for their children.
For those who are planning to vaccinate their children against COVID-19, there is a lot of optimism and hope about the future, clinical psychologist Thea Gallagher, an assistant professor at NYU and co-host of the Mind in View podcast, tells Yahoo Life. "When the vaccine came out for adults, a lot of people said things like, 'I didn't realize what a relief this was,'" she says. "This has taken a toll on our emotional bandwidth. Parents have to do a risk assessment with every decision — and getting children vaccinated is one less mental toll."
Clinical psychologist John Mayer, author of Family Fit: Find Your Balance in Life, agrees, telling Yahoo Life that parents "have been in an anxiety vise brought on by sending their children out into the world — school and activities." Many parents have felt torn because their kids are "not fully protected," but they need and want them to resume their education and activities. "The arrival of the vaccine for children gives parents great relief from this conflict they were in," he says.
Gallagher anticipates that getting more children vaccinated against COVID-19 "will make parents feel like they can breathe a little bit easier." She adds that "it's going to have a huge impact on mental health because many of us care about our kids more than ourselves. It's a weight lifted, for sure."
Dr. Juan Salazar, a pediatric infectious disease specialist and physician in chief at Connecticut Children's, tells Yahoo Life that he expects the FDA and CDC will "move relatively quickly" on having the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine available to kids ages 5 and up. The CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices is scheduled to meet on the topic on Tuesday and Wednesday, and if all goes well, "the vaccine may be available for families by Nov. 5," Salazar says.
His hospital system plans to offer the vaccine to higher-risk patients first, before opening it up to the broader population, and he anticipates many others will do the same. "As we get into the Christmas holiday, many children will be fully vaccinated," he says. "This is very exciting."
Salazar calls the FDA's green light "a message of hope" for families. "Families have waited for so long to feel that their kids are safe so that they can attend schools safely and go see grandparents who may be at risk for more severe disease," he says. "This Christmas, Hanukkah and New Year's will be more normal and we can begin to heal as a nation." Salazar calls the underlying fear for parents that their children will contract COVID-19 "traumatic," adding, "We probably don't even understand how traumatic it is, but in five or so years from now, we will understand how difficult this really was."
Salazar says his hospital has "heard from a lot of parents who were eager to get this vaccine yesterday," but he has also spoken to some who are "still hesitant." He adds, "Hopefully, as more information comes out, we will get more kids vaccinated."
Parents should be able to find some mental relief with vaccination too, Mayer says. "Parents know that their No. 1 responsibility is to keep children safe, and now they have a powerful tool to do just that — the vaccine," Mayer says. "Many parents I talk to have felt as if they were surrounded by the dangers of the pandemic without a life vest. Now science has given them a life vest for their kids."
Gallagher says that many parents "are looking forward to getting back to being human again," adding that "a lot of what COVID took from us was our ability to do things that are normal and natural, to be community-based people."
She stresses the importance of celebrating this milestone with kids. "COVID took so many things away from us," she says. "Having these celebrations and special moments are important."
Once the COVID-19 vaccine is authorized for children ages 5 and up, only those 4 and under will still be ineligible to receive the vaccine. While trials in younger age groups are ongoing, it's unclear how long it will take for this group to have access to the vaccine.
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