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EDITORIAL: Public health leaders need to get kids vaccinated

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Children have been mostly spared from the pandemic’s ravages, but they’re not immune. Pediatric intensive care units filled up this summer with delta variant cases, and across the country, nearly 800 children have died from COVID-19. That’s a minuscule percentage of the total underage population, but every death is a tragedy for a family.

This week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention approved a smaller dose of the Pfizer vaccine for children ages 5 to 11, essentially covering the remainder of the school-age population that was still waiting on access to the shots. We expect that millions of families and teachers are sighing with relief after almost two tumultuous years of remote learning, special campus protocols and, in some cases, social exile.

The CDC approval means that the series of two shots, at lower doses, will be rolling out in the next few days. The question now is whether enough parents will get their kids vaccinated and move their communities closer to herd immunity.

We urge them to do so. While we understand parents’ instinct to be extra cautious when making decisions about their children’s health care, the science overwhelmingly shows that the COVID-19 vaccine is safe and effective at protecting kids. And as advertising around town from Children’s Medical Center reminds us, the vaccine technology is older than the kids who will receive it.

The clinical trial showed that the Pfizer vaccine was 91% effective in preventing symptomatic COVID-19 among more than 2,000 children ages 5-11. Vaccine experts say the benefits of getting the shots outweigh the risks for kids in this age group.

Moreover, millions of children ages 12-17 have been safely vaccinated against COVID-19 since May.

Families also have to contend with the risk that a child with COVID-19 might spread the illness to a vulnerable relative, even if the child is asymptomatic or ailing from a mild version of the disease.

Unfortunately, there is still a lot of vaccine skepticism among families. A recent Gallup poll showed that only 55% of parents in the U.S. with kids under age 12 say they would get their children vaccinated if the shots became available.

Pediatricians will do a lot of the heavy lifting in informing and convincing parents, but our public health authorities should once again turn to other trusted community voices to amplify the importance of vaccinating children.

As in previous campaigns, civic leaders will have to think creatively. The more kids who get vaccinated, the closer we are to normalcy and the closer we are to leaving those bitter battles about mask mandates behind. What a comfort that would be.

This editorial was originally printed in the Dallas Morning News, and is reprinted here courtesy of Tribune News Service.

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