After mulling over the pros and cons of getting her 15-year-old vaccinated, Jennifer Barrows of Urbana said the best choice became clear: get her son the jab.
“The negative is just regular vaccine side effects as far as we can see,” Barrows said, “and my son isn’t able to do the things he wants to do because of the virus. So we figured the more people who get vaccinated, the faster things will start opening up for him.”
Similarly, Michele Smith of Myersville said it was a no-brainer to get her 12-year-old daughter, who has asthma, vaccinated.
“With my oldest daughter having asthma, seeing her in the hospital on oxygen, it really changes a parent,” Smith said. “It’s a helpless feeling, and anything I can do to not be in that situation again, I will do to keep them healthy and safe.”
As Frederick County Public Schools plans for a full reopening in the fall, the number of students getting vaccinated is on the rise. According to data from the Frederick County Health Department, 10 percent of residents in the county aged 10 to 19 had received at least one vaccine shot as of Thursday.
Overall, 50 percent of Frederick County residents have received at least one vaccine shot, while 46 percent of the county has been fully vaccinated.
The Food and Drug Administration approved the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for children aged 12-15 in early May, which followed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention authorizing vaccines for those aged 16 and older in April.
Frederick County began vaccinating children aged 12-15 shortly after the Pfizer vaccine was approved. In the first two weeks, there was high demand, said Frederick County health officer Dr. Barbara Brookmyer.
Going forward, it should become easier for families to secure an appointment for their children, Brookmyer said, and families can easily search for nearby clinics that have the Pfizer vaccine through vaccines.gov.
For the most part, the health department has been able to meet the continuing demand for the vaccine due to an increase in vaccine sites and better communication from the state, Brookmyer said.
“Now we know how many doses of vaccine we’re receiving. In the past, when we started out with adults, we wouldn’t know from week to week how much vaccine we were receiving,” Brookmyer said. “Now the state has given us projections four weeks out, so we can take a look at those projections, and that helps tremendously in our ability to estimate how well-matched the numbers seeking vaccines and the availability of vaccine.”
Brookmyer said she has heard concern from some parents about getting their children vaccinated. But at the end of the day, she said, the vaccine provides an unmatched level of protection that is more permanent than any other measure.
Side effects seen in the clinical trials for children have been similar to adults, Brookmyer said, and include a sore arm, mild fever and fatigue. The benefits are prevention of severe illness and death from COVID-19.
The county health officer said there seems to be a common misconception regarding the vaccine — that if someone has already been infected with the virus they don’t need to get vaccinated.
“The robustness of someone’s immune response when they become infected varies considerably, and the duration of an effective immune response following infection also seems to vary considerably. With the vaccination, it provides a more predictable level of protection and a more predictable duration of protection,” Brookmyer said.
Betsey Brannen, a Walkersville resident, said she plans to get her 11-year-old son vaccinated as soon as he is eligible, but she also understands the vaccine hesitancy among some parents.
“I am unabashedly pro-vaccination, but I’m also pro-body autonomy. So I understand that there are people out there who do not feel the vaccine is right for them,” Brannen said. “There is absolutely nothing I can say or do that is going to change their mindset, so it is my job to protect myself and my children.”
When asked how schools should handle vaccinations and mask-wearing for students going forward, parents had mixed thoughts.
“Personally, I would love to see them keep the mask mandate in place until the kids are vaccinated,” Brannen said. “I understand if they choose not to ... but if we would all just take a deep breath and wear our masks, we are just asking for a little longer.”
Barrows, the Urbana mother, said if the numbers continue to trend in the right direction, the mask mandate and social distancing requirements should be lifted in schools.
Smith, meanwhile, said she would prefer the vaccine be required for students, but she sees it as a tricky and complex issue.
Brookmyer said the virus is likely to still be circulating in the fall, but if students continue to get vaccinated, the transmission rate in schools will be low.
Asked if schools should fully reopen, Brookmyer said there are numerous factors to consider, noting fall is a long time away.
“There’s the consideration, ‘Well, if you don’t open [schools], what’s the impact?’ And the impact beyond the spreading of communicable diseases to the impact on educational attainment and mental health and well-being,” Brookmyer said. “It extends to families — and especially women — being able to return to the workforce. So all of that is something for our society to grapple with and determine where on that continuum of risk will society deem appropriate.”
Brookmyer’s official recommendation for the fall will depend on what virus variants are circulating and how effective the vaccines continue to be, she said.
As for children who aren’t vaccinated wearing masks, Brookmyer said it all depends on the setting. Indoors are likely riskier than outdoors, especially if it’s a room full of strangers or people who have traveled from afar.
But one thing Brookmyer stressed is that mask-wearing is the best layer of protection for those who haven’t been vaccinated.
“What I’d recommend for anyone who is not vaccinated and people who ... have an immune system that might not be fully functioning, they might want to continue to add some protective layers while the virus is circulating,” Brookmyer said.
Barrows, Smith and Brannen said they are still wearing masks in most public spaces. They are encouraging their children to do the same, especially since many children are not yet eligible for the vaccine.
Smith, who also has an 8-year-old-daughter, said it’s all about unity.
“If we go out in public, or if we have to go to the store, I’m not going to ask my daughter to do something that I’m not willing to do,” she said. “The mask is such a tiny inconvenience. It’s not a burden at all ... and to keep her safe, it’s what we have to do.”