By Dr. Dave A. Chokshi
As a father of a young child and the City’s doctor, it has been especially meaningful for me to see so many brave children roll up their sleeves to get vaccinated against COVID-19. I have had the privilege of being present when some have gotten their first dose. I remember one young person had tragically lost their mother to the COVID-19 pandemic. The family felt relief and joy after waiting so long for the comfort of knowing the child was protected.
Since the COVID-19 vaccine was authorized, over 140,000 children ages 5-11 have received at least one dose in New York City. We are proud of this progress, but still, too many of our youngest New Yorkers remain unvaccinated. Right now, it’s more urgent than ever, because infection rates are highest among school-aged children. Since the start of the pandemic, school-aged children have accounted for approximately 7% of all cases. In the last 30 days, 14% of all cases have been among this age group.
It is critical for parents and caregivers to understand that COVID-19 is a serious childhood illness. It can result in hospitalizations, ICU admissions, long-term health issues, and in rare cases, death. No children have died from the vaccine.
Understandably, many parents and caregivers want to make sure it’s safe—even those who have fully vaccinated themselves. According to a new survey, about a third of parents of children ages 5 to 11 say they want to wait and see how the vaccine is working for others before getting their child vaccinated. But our leading pediatricians are strongly recommending vaccination right now, precisely because it helps keep our kids safe.
Some are concerned after hearing about a risk of myocarditis, or mild heart inflammation. This is of course something we take seriously. What we know is that myocarditis is actually more likely to occur as a result of COVID-19, not vaccination. It also likely helps that the dose used in 5 to 11-year-olds is a third of the dose used for those 12 and up.
But benefits of vaccination go beyond just protection from COVID-19. Although thankfully, the youngest New Yorkers have largely avoided COVID’s worst outcomes, they have all shared in our collective trauma, and far too many have experienced loss. With vaccination, children can return to normal life again. They can catch up on hugs, playdates, sleepovers, sports, and school activities. They can more safely gather with friends and family over the holidays.
Another reason to get the shot now is that starting this week, children 5 and up will need to show proof of at least one vaccination dose for indoor dining, fitness and entertainment activities, and many after-school activities as well like sports, band, and choir.
I urge everyone to get the kids vaccinated as soon as possible. You can go to the City’s vaccine finder to find locations in all five boroughs, including City sites, pharmacies, and clinics. The Health Department is working with over 1,500 pediatricians to distribute the vaccine.
The instinct parents and caregivers have to protect children is a good one—our first priority is always to keep our children safe. I want to be clear: To not have your child vaccinated is taking a serious risk. The vaccine will keep your child and our communities safe.
(Dr. Chokshi is New York City’s Health Commissioner)