COVID is one of the top five causes of child death. I’m relieved my 1-year-old finally got her first vaccine dose – San Francisco Chronicle

Recently, my 1-year-old received her first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. Ellie was a trooper, crying for only about 30 seconds after the nurse delivered the dose. She was bouncing around the house as soon as we got home.

I got my first dose while pregnant to protect Ellie and me, as the immunity I received transferred safely to her. I delivered a perfectly healthy baby, and Ellie had no reaction to the first dose she received.

Of course, my decisions to get us both vaccinated were made only after poring over data and consulting with my doctor.

As the senior adviser for the California Department of Public Health’s vaccine task force, I am inundated with coronavirus infection trends, surrounded by research and data day-in and day-out. I’ve learned that COVID-19 is one of the top five causes of child death. During last winter’s omicron surge, COVID-19 hospitalizations for kids ages 4 and under were five times higher than when the delta variant was circulating earlier — and 1 in 5 kids hospitalized with the virus was admitted to the intensive care unit. My husband also works in health care, where he hears cases of patients in the ICU fighting for their lives.

These are all constant reminders of how COVID-19 continues to ravage families and why we need to continue to look out for one another.

Knowing these facts firsthand had made me anxious while pregnant and during Ellie’s infancy. As parents, we want to do everything we can to protect the proverbial lights of our lives. I felt helpless without a vaccine during Ellie’s delicate first year.

That concern for loved ones spills over into the home that we share with my parents. My mother takes care of Ellie while my husband and I work, and my dad is highly vulnerable to the most serious consequences of COVID-19. Years ago, he was diagnosed with lung cancer, and his surgical treatment left him with about 75% lung capacity.

Like other multigenerational households, we’ve taken extraordinary care to keep ourselves and one another protected against the virus — masking, isolating if we don’t feel well, limiting interactions with non-family members and receiving all eligible vaccine doses. We are extra careful to avoid places where the coronavirus might be circulating. Regrettably, our family has missed out on a lot of activities.

That’s why I was thrilled when vaccines for all family members finally became available. I was heartened to know that thousands of infants and toddlers as young as 6-months-old were part of robust clinical trials that demonstrated the vaccine’s safety and effectiveness for our youngest children.

I feel fortunate to live in a country that rigorously researches and tests vaccines before they are authorized by the Food and Drug Administration and endorsed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — and for California’s added layer of review through an independent panel in partnership with Washington, Oregon and Nevada that examines the data.

In fact, the COVID-19 vaccine is just one of many proven vaccinations helping to keep my toddler healthy by protecting her from infectious diseases like whooping cough, measles and influenza, among others.

Now that our whole family has been vaccinated, we have a newfound peace of mind knowing that we’ve done everything we can to keep one another healthy. My parents can freely embrace Ellie with less worry, and she can safely spend more time with others outside our household.

We are among the nearly 29 million Californians who have been vaccinated against COVID-19. Nearly 67% of the state’s children ages 12 to 17 and more than 36% of those 5 to 11 have received doses of these safe and effective vaccines. This is good news, as research has shown that the vaccine protects children against the worst outcomes of COVID-19, including hospitalization, long COVID, multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children and death.

On Ellie’s first birthday, we celebrated her doljabi, a Korean tradition that determines one’s destiny. As we watched her choose from a myriad of items before her, I secretly hoped she’d choose the yarn that signifies long life. Of course, we knew we’d be happy no matter what she chose, especially knowing she is better protected in her early years. We have so much to celebrate.

If you or other members of your family are not yet vaccinated against COVID-19, now is a good time to consider the tools available, including the recently authorized Novavax vaccine — a new option for adults that uses a protein-based technology.

Whether to have your children vaccinated against COVID-19 is an important decision for every parent and caregiver to make. As a parent, I urge you to discuss any questions you have with your child’s health care provider. If you’re ready to take the step toward full-family protection against COVID-19, call your provider or community health clinic to get your child vaccinated. Or go to myturn.ca.gov or call 833-422-4255 to find a vaccination site near you.

Sonya Logman Harris is the senior adviser to California’s Vaccinate ALL 58 campaign and oversees the COVID-19 Vaccine Task Force’s statewide outreach and education efforts. She previously served as chief of staff for the 2020 census in California.

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