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Challenge: Expert Advice

I'm a mom and a doctor. Here's why I vaccinated my kids.

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The last time I wrote an article about COVID vaccination, it got picked up and posted by a site with many more followers than I have. I initially read the comments on the post. Most were positive, but I stopped reading and closed the site when I read someone who hatefully suggested she hoped my “tits fall off” from getting the vaccine.

Almost a year and three COVID shots later, my breasts have not fallen off. The people I love are all vaccinated if they can be. As my own children became eligible, they were vaccinated as soon as they could be. This week, to my great relief, my youngest child was able to join the ranks of the vaccinated.

As I went through my training to become a pediatrician, one of the things I quickly learned is how many truly smart people there are in the world. I was blessed to learn at amazing institutions of higher learning. The more I learned, the more I realized how much I had to learn. In my current practice, I have access to consultation with pediatric specialists and colleagues whom I trust to search for the answers and do the right thing.

When I first started practicing pediatrics, I worked with a wonderful doctor who had been in practice more than 30 years. I remember going to him with a question about a patient I had seen and whose diagnosis I didn’t know. I presented the case to him in the hallway. He was a man of few words, and he thought about my question and then answered, “Hmm. I don’t know.”

Those three words, “I don’t know,” in the beginning of my own private practice, reaffirmed for me what I had been taught over and over again in my medical training. No one knows everything, not even the smartest people. But the smartest people know how to say “I don’t know. But I know where to look for the answer.”

I don’t know everything about the vaccine, but I know where to look for answers, and I encourage you to do the same. Ask advice from someone you trust in the medical community. Read information from people who work in the medical field. Listen to people, like I do, who know more than we do, who have made it their life’s work to study infectious disease.

This week I’ve been asked a lot of questions about the COVID vaccine for the 5- to 11-year-old age group. In the spring, I was asked the same about adolescents. I’m not going to go into the scientific or medical reasons I gave my kids the vaccine. You can read that data yourself, and make the best decision you can for your own children.

The purpose of this article is not to give medical advice. Please ask your own doctor about the vaccine. The purpose is to share my thoughts on why I vaccinated my children.

A year ago, I was relieved to get the vaccine because I was tired of living in fear. I love my job, but I never wanted to die for my job. I didn’t want to bring an infection into my home that would potentially have fatal consequences for me, my husband, my children, or my parents. We were and are still learning about COVID and, as we have learned more, the advice has changed. As permanent representative to the United Nations Mohamad Safa said in a clever tweet, “Science is not truth. Science is finding the truth. When science changes its opinion, it didn’t lie to you. It learned more.”

It is true that some children and teens are asymptomatic and never know they have COVID. It is true that most young people recover from COVID. But “most” is not “all,” and just like in other areas of my life, I control my own anxiety by controlling what I can, and by doing what I can to protect those I love.

Mostly, I vaccinated my children to protect them. From the disease itself. From the potential bad outcomes of the disease. From the mental health anguish of having to shut down society again and do virtual school. From the potential guilt of inadvertently giving the virus to a high-risk family member, teacher, coach, or friend.

I vaccinated them so we can gather with family and friends at the holidays without worrying that they will pass aerosolized viral particles with the turkey and dressing around their grandparents’ dining room table.

But I also vaccinated them so that I can, as their mom, stop living with low-level anxiety that they are going to catch it. If you haven’t had to talk or worry about COVID in the last 20 months, good for you, but those of us in the medical field have talked about COVID every single day of the pandemic. We’ve seen and heard what it can do.

Now that they’re vaccinated, I can happily watch my kids gather in groups, and be with their friends, and play their sports and go to parties. No doubt the past 20 months have made me more germaphobic, and I’m ready to start letting that go. As I know they have some immunity and their risk is decreased, I can loosen my reins.

I vaccinated them because I want us all to get out of this pandemic hell, and I feel it is the right thing to do for public health as a whole. The more of us have immunity, the fewer hosts are available for COVID to spread, and mutate, and keep the hell going.

I vaccinated them for their classmates who are immunosuppressed and for healthcare workers who are exhausted. For my friends who are coming on the year anniversary of watching family members struggle for their last breath. I vaccinated them for the children who have been orphaned by COVID, and for those who have begged for the vaccine from their deathbeds.

I vaccinated them because I trust the science. And while I have access to the data and the studies and have smart, smart people guiding my recommendations as a physician, my maternal instincts are stronger than my pediatrician instincts. If my vaccinated children get COVID anyway, I will be at peace as their mother, knowing that I did everything I could to protect them.

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