As COVID-19 vaccinations are more readily available and the Pfizer vaccine has received approval from the FDA for children ages 12-15, the discussions about whether to vaccinate have increased.
Not all military installations are administering the Pfizer vaccine, nor are all of them accepting appointment requests from dependents under the age of 18. But state-run vaccination sites are encouraging appointments for those ages 12-17 to ensure the Pfizer vaccine is available.
So, what's a military parent to do when faced with the decision whether to vaccinate their child? The answer, of course, depends on the family.
Emily R., a 12-year-old who lives in California with her mom and Air Force dad, said her parents discussed her options with her. During that discussion, Emily said she kept in mind how she could pass along COVID-19 to others, which may put them at greater risk.
“Whenever decisions like this come along, we usually talk about it as a family,” Emily said. “But I definitely get a say in the matter.”
Emily got her first dose of the vaccine through a local option and said it felt just like a flu shot.
“My arm is a bit sore, of course, but it was so easy,” she said.
As of May 12, 2021, the Defense Department reported 29,249 military dependents have been infected by COVID-19, including 375 who were hospitalized. There have been 12 deaths among dependents from COVID. More than 3 million doses of the Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccine have been administered by the DoD, but a breakdown by age and dependent status was not available.
Children have had lower rates of infection than adults and have been studied in several age groups. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2,871,828 confirmed cases were recorded in the 24-and-younger age range from March 1 to Dec. 12, 2020. Less than a fifth (16.3%) of those cases were in children ages 14-17, and only 7.9% were those ages 11-13. The age ranges for children align with their educational groupings; i.e., middle school and high school.
Of those children with confirmed infections, less than 0.1% of each age range died, and 2% or less were hospitalized.
“Absolutely not,’’ Chatriwala said.
While there are several reasons that her children, ages 11 and 14, will not receive the vaccine, Chatriwala said the short answer is that she believes the long-term effects are unknown.
The CDC indicates that long-term effects of the vaccine are unlikely, because most side effects take place within six weeks of vaccination. People who received the vaccine were studied for eight weeks after the final dose and no long-term side effects were detected, though the CDC is still monitoring. The FDA evaluated data from 2,260 participants ages 12-15 in a clinical study, and the lack of long-term side effects was consistent with those for adults.
"I actually have come to believe more recently, in doing extensive research, that there are very few vaccines that are truly safe," she said. "Basically, there's no information as to what this could potentially do to their bodies."
Chatriwala says her children’s pediatrician has not recommended they receive the vaccine.
"The younger populations face such a low risk for contracting the disease and even lower risk of any permanent or serious effects that the risk in allowing them to be experimented upon is just not worth it," she said.
‘We're Doing It as Soon as Possible’
Army spouse and veteran Helen Paglio's family support the vaccine. She, her husband and their older children -- ages 19, 19 and 17 -- are fully vaccinated. Her younger children, ages 16, 14, and 12, are ready to go. And when her 10-year-old is eligible, he'll be first in line.
Paglio's youngest, James, received a kidney transplant seven years ago. Paglio hopes to get him in a vaccine study that is specific to pediatric transplant patients. The study won't provide him with the vaccine, but it tracks its efficacy.
"His doctors are well-versed in epidemiology and infectious diseases. They have their own kids participating in the vaccine studies," Paglio said.
The eligible members of the Paglio family were vaccinated as soon as they were eligible -- with recommendations for the other kids to be vaccinated coming from their pediatrician and the specialty medical teams that have known the family for the 10 years since James’s diagnosis.
When asked about any potential concerns with vaccinating her children, Paglio said she had none.
"I figured the dosing differences between adults and adolescents had not been an issue since the adults in the studies had presumably been of wildly different sizes,’’ she said. “I also did enough reading about mRNA vaccine history to know that these types of vaccines [using the mRNA vaccine technology] have been in the works for decades. So the 'newness' of the vaccine doesn't scare me."
Paglio and her family have gotten their vaccines from local options, as they live too far away from Fort Meade, Maryland, where her spouse is stationed, to make the drive reasonable.
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