We each have a responsibility to ensure that those around us are protected. We reduce COVID-19 transmission by being vaccinated, and protecting ourselves, our loved ones, and our community.
The COVID-19 vaccines are safe for us and for our children. The vaccines are effective at reducing COVID-19-related serious illnesses, hospitalizations, and deaths even in young children under 5. However, just over 8% of eligible babies and toddlers nationwide have received their first dose.
Overall, pediatric vaccination rates vary widely across states, ranging from 2% to 32% having received their first dose. Washington state is at 14%.
Public health experts and officials worry that we are leaving the nation’s youngest children at unnecessary risk as another potential fall or winter COVID-19 infection wave approaches.
Dr. Lakshmi Deepa Yerram, chief medical officer at International Community Health Services (ICHS), stresses the importance of why parents should get their children vaccinated.
Vaccination saves lives
“The first and foremost thing is that the vaccine helps prevent kids from getting COVID-19. There are no two ways around that,” Dr. Yerram said. “Although we know that COVID-19 in children is sometimes milder than what we see in adults, some kids infected with the coronavirus can get severe lung infections, become very sick, and require hospitalizations. We read reports on children unfortunately passing away from this infection.”
Children who get vaccinated also prevent or reduce the spread of the virus to others in their household who may be immunocompromised. And, vaccination helps stop other variants from emerging.
“As long as the virus can transmit easily between unvaccinated children and adults, we are giving the new variants a chance to emerge,” Dr. Yerram said. “So the best way to stop that is to make sure everyone who can get vaccinated gets vaccinated.”
One question that has been on almost everyone’s mind from the start is if the COVID-19 vaccines are safe. Dr. Yerram assures they have been thoroughly tested and ultimately cleared for use. No steps were skipped in the interest of urgency—all clinical trials followed standard protocols. Side effects, if they do exist, are minimal.
“When you take all of these points into account, we know this vaccine is safe. We know this is going to make our lives better and easier. We know it’s going to reduce the variants from emerging, and we know it is going to keep our kids safe. I don’t see any other way of how I can stress why it is important for every child, including those five and under, to get this vaccine.”
With kids returning to the classroom, vaccination plays an even more important role. While schools have done a good job of implementing measures such as improved ventilation, physical distancing, proper hand-washing, masking when appropriate, and “stay at home when sick” policies, vaccination just adds another level of protection.
Outreach efforts to communities of color
Certain populations have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19, for various reasons. For example, cultural and racial disparities resulted in a level of mistrust of the healthcare community.
“We have to remember that these diverse communities often come from places where there has been distress. There have been issues with lack of access to healthcare and stigmas and stereotypes around poor hygiene and carrying disease,” notes Dr. Yerram. “The general distrust that comes with governmental organizations and structured medicine leads to the hesitancy among the populations we serve.”
As a result, communication has become a main focus at ICHS. The health center has worked to make it easy for community members to get vaccinated. Information is disseminated via community outreach, social media, radio, podcasts, short videos, and interviews. ICHS ensures that community members are able to receive information in their spoken language—of which there are over 70 different languages in the ICHS network.
ICHS offers vaccinations during routine clinic visits, at vaccination sites, through its pharmacies, and pop-up clinics throughout the community (grocery stores, religious institutions, community centers, schools). It has been an all-hands-on-deck effort, per Dr. Yerram.
“By making sure proper information gets out and by ensuring they can get vaccines, as they get ready to get vaccinated, we have continued to make sure our patients can reap the benefits of the vaccines currently available for COVID-19.”
Go to ichs.com/covid-19-vaccine-appointments to learn more.