Parents face challenges in getting Covid vaccine for kids
By Taylor Nicioli
Christine Basile, a parent and Glen Cove resident, would have preferred to have her 8-year-old vaccinated with her pediatrician late last year, but was left frustrated when she discovered that most Long Island pediatricians did not carry the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for this age group at the time. Still, Basile decided to bring her daughter to a state vaccination site, where most pediatric vaccines were being given.
“I was hesitant getting the vaccine myself, but I was vaccinated as well as millions of others, so I felt comfortable getting her the vaccine,” Basile said. “My daughter is out in the public, and she trains in a gym four days a week, so she’s exposed to other people, without a mask too. I thought it was important, at the very least, to protect her and anyone who may have contact with her.”
Late last year and into the new year, communities across Long Island pushed to have children vaccinated, following the approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for kids ages 5 to 11. These included several pop-up locations and Walgreens, CVS, and a few hospitals and pediatric doctor offices.
While the vaccine had been approved for this age group since Nov. 2, many Long Island educators and medical officials said they were disappointed that so few children had been vaccinated. As of Nov. 24, only 10 percent of the 5-to-11 age group had received at least one dose of the vaccine, resulting in only 1 in 10 of Long Island children vaccinated before Thanksgiving.
“I think some parents have been very excited to step in this direction and have been wanting to get their kids vaccinated to go back to school, while other parents are very passionate about not letting it touch their kid with a 15-foot pole,” said Joshua Hourizadeh, a doctor at the CityMd in Long Beach. “They are very complete opposite of opinions. I think it might be a fair 50-50 in terms of positive and negative reaction sides.”
With the new Omicron variant, discovered in late November, more parents are looking to have their children vaccinated, and more government officials are urging them to do so. On Dec. 4, after detection of the first Omicron variant cases in New York State, Gov. Kathy Hochul said, “We knew the Omicron variant was coming, and we expect to see more cases. But let me be clear: We are not defenseless. Get your vaccine, get your booster and wear your mask.”
In September, Hochul announced a 12-week period in which more than 120 pop-up vaccination sites would open across New York, and added more locations and dates, including 18 new sites on Dec. 1. The pop-up locations are central to the #VaxToSchool campaign that was introduced as part of the state’s attempt to increase vaccination rates among younger students.
“In terms of vaccines, I’m not sure if it will bring us to normalcy, but it’s one tool that will help, depending on how good they’re going to get,” Hourizadeh said. “We are always going to be trying to catch up until the entire world reaches a balance of immunity.”
Several Long Island parents have shown their disapproval for any consideration of a vaccine mandate for young children and are urging Hochul not to mandate the vaccine in schools. The Lindenhurst School District sent a letter to Hochul in early November stating its stance on the vaccine mandate for public schools. It read, “Legislation of this type would be an infringement upon parental rights and would unnecessarily put strain on the emotional well-being of our students and the financial well-being of this district.”
Susan Eisenberg, of Oyster Bay, has two grandchildren who have yet to receive the vaccine, and she said she hopes there won’t be a vaccine mandate in the schools. “I don’t think anything being pushed online is for the wellbeing of children,” said Eisenberg about the #VaxToSchool campaign. “The wellbeing of children belongs with the information given from their doctors to the parents. I believe any kind of medical action for children should be decided by the parent, not the government.”
The VaxMobile, the region’s first Covid-19 vaccination mobile unit, was put in place for other parents who hope to have their children vaccinated conveniently. Introduced by Mount Sinai South Nassau Hospital in Oceanside, the VaxMobile gave the first few vaccines to children ages 5 to 11 in Long Beach on Nov. 3, the day after the Prifzer-BioNTech vaccine was approved for this age group. The few parents who came were eager to have their children vaccinated and had been waiting for the day they could.
Dorothy Nanong-Rojas, nurse practitioner at MSSN’s VaxMobile, said the program’s goal is to go to underserved communities that need vaccines and distribute them. “I know with parents there are some hesitancies when deciding on getting their children vaccinated or not,” Rojas said. “They question if they want to give a vaccine to a 5- to 11-year-old. Depending on the demand that’s out there, the VaxMobile will be there. We’re going to help to better serve the community that needs it.”
Basile said she was not surprised by the low vaccination rates, like many others, but she hopes other parents will continue to have their children vaccinated. “It’s just going to continue to mutate until we get rid of it,” she said, “just like measles, mumps, rubella, tetanus, anything that we vaccinate our children for. People vaccinate their children every day to go to school, but for some reason everyone is politicizing this vaccine, and it’s just really unfortunate.”