Northeast Ohio parents share their thoughts on the COVID-19 vaccine for their young kids

A brown-haired girl in a green shirt gets a shot in the right arm from a health care worker.
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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has opened the door for children ages 5 to 11 to get the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine. But now it has to get through the most important gatekeeper of all — the child’s parent or guardian. And the topic of vaccines for young children is very polarizing.

Heather Schario, for one, has been anxiously awaiting the approval of the vaccine for this age group. She works as a speech therapist in a nursing home that was hit hard by the pandemic and has had many conversations with her 6-year-old about the virus.

“Especially last year, because when I was working in the COVID unit, I would pick her up, but she couldn't touch me. I had to go in the back door and run downstairs to put my stuff away,” Schario said. “It’s really been like a part of our family's life experience, so she's very aware of it. She calls it that pesky coronavirus, and she gets that the vaccine makes it so your body can keep the coronavirus from getting too far in.”

When the Cleveland Heights mom found out her daughter could finally get the vaccine, Schario said she literally started shaking in relief.

“For me, it's like, it means life. She can go meet her friends who are also vaccinated, and we can maybe consider going out to eat when the younger one gets vaccinated,” she said. “And having more of that normal childhood life experience that they haven't had for so long” Schario said. “And, also just for school, it's much safer if everybody is vaccinated, and I really, really want school to stay open.”

Schario points to the CDC’s recommendation that all children ages 5 to 11 get a low-dose of the Pfizer vaccine, and she says she trusts the guidance her pediatrician gives her. She’s not alone.

Melonie Welchans is a mother of five in Kirtland who also plans on getting her kids in this age group vaccinated, in large part, because she worries about the school environment.

“Since September there has been a mask mandate in class, and that’s just because there were tons of kids who were- who had COVID,” Welchans said.

Welchans is concerned the school district might make masks optional after winter break.

“I definitely want my kids vaccinated before they go back to school in January, in the case that they do lift the mask mandate. And it's because my son has terrible asthma,” Welchans said. “So, I know that if he got COVID, he would not be able to fight it off. I mean, he had RSV (Respiratory syncytial virus) 12 times before he was two, you know, so he just doesn't have the lung capacity to fight it off.”

Welchans also wants extra protection around her youngest child, who is two and unable to get vaccinated yet.

“Even though myself, my husband and my oldest daughter are vaccinated, we wear our masks everywhere, because I don't want to bring anything home to them,” Welchans said, “especially to my two year old. I don’t think she’d be able to fight it off either, you know.”

While there are a lot of parents who are ready to vaccinate their kids, there are a number of parents who will not be giving their young children a COVID-19 vaccine. 

According to a Kaiser Health News Poll, one-third of participants responded that they would definitely not get their kids vaccinated.  Another third of participants said they wanted to wait and see.

Pamela Schneider in Cleveland Heights has several reasons behind her decision not to vaccinate, including some bad medical outcomes in her past.

“I had my own personal experiences with the medical institutions and pharmaceuticals that have caused horrible side effects and then realizing after the fact that there were all these potential side effects and risks that weren't even mentioned to me when I agreed to take the medication or have the procedure,” Schneider said. “ And we're kind of just expected to believe that everything is safe.”

Schneider points to data from the CDC that shows of all the children ages 5-11 who have gotten COVID-19, only 94 have died from the virus. The CDC also reports 8300 children in this age group have been hospitalized.

Schneider feels there’s very low risk to her child, and she’s not willing to gamble on a newly developed vaccine.

“It's really not going to be an issue if he does get it versus having had the experience of complications and injury from pharmaceuticals. To me, I sit down and I look at it like, ‘Well, would I rather have him be sick for a little while or would I rather have him have a heart condition or something like that, that the doctors might not even know what to do with with that because of some new side effect that they've never encountered?” Schneider said.

According to the CDC, in very rare cases, people have developed myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle, after being vaccinated. 

Schneider’s trained as a holistic healer and says she firmly believes in the body’s immune system and its ability to heal, especially when people lead a healthy lifestyle.

Hearing from these parents, it’s apparent how polarizing the issue of COVID-19 vaccines are. Everyone has their child’s best interest at heart. And everyone just wants to get through the pandemic with their health intact.

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