03.10.2022

Parents Anxious to Vaccinate Young Children Describe an Agonizing Wait

Tyfanee Pratt’s son Julian was born in November 2019 in Burlington, N.J. Before long, Ms. Pratt was ready to introduce him to the world. But then, she wrote, “Covid-19 slammed the door on us — locked us in and hid away the key.”

Ms. Pratt responded to a call to New York Times readers, asking parents of young children about life with an unvaccinated baby, toddler or preschooler.

“His father and I have been his cell mates,” she wrote to The Times, adding that the experience nearly destroyed their relationship.

Ms. Pratt is among the estimated one in five parents of children younger than 5 who, according to recent surveys, have been waiting anxiously for the Food and Drug Administration to authorize a coronavirus vaccine for the youngest Americans. That age group, with roughly 20 million children, is the only one not yet eligible for the shots.

A committee of experts advising the F.D.A. is scheduled to vote Wednesday on whether to recommend that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines be authorized for young children. If the answer is yes and the rest of the process happens quickly, they could begin getting shots as soon as Tuesday.

Most parents are not so eager to get their young children vaccinated, surveys have found. A Kaiser Family Foundation survey this spring found that about two in five parents said they planned to wait and see how the vaccine works for others before deciding what to do. And 38 percent said they would definitely not get their children vaccinated, or would do so only if required.

“Because the mortality rate for children is super low, and having already had a bout with Covid omicron version, we should be OK for a while,” a parent in New York City wrote to The Times. “Unless any variant comes up with more dire consequences for those under 5, I would wait until my child turns 5 to vaccinate likely.”

Adrian Bryant of Willowbrook, Ill., who has an infant and a 3½-year-old daughter, said she was “not sold” on giving the vaccines to young children, explaining: “My child had Covid twice that I’m aware of, and although she was sick, she did bounce back quickly.”

But for parents like Ms. Pratt who do want to vaccinate their children, the wait has been agonizing.

More than 1,600 parents responded to The Times’s call in less than 24 hours last month. Their outpouring of thoughts and feelings reflected how they and their children have suffered without access to a pediatric vaccine — emotionally, socially and financially. Here are some of the ways they described the wait: Hell. Brutal. Torture. Terrifying. Horrible. Heartbreaking.

“Nearly lost my job and my mind,” wrote one parent. “Halved my income,” said another. “The hardest time in my life.” “I feel helpless and hopeless.” “Extremely lonely; I’m tearing up as I’m writing this.” “Every cough sets me on edge.”

“We aren’t making memories.” “My kids are missing out on being kids.” “I’ve been breast feeding for 20 months to give her some immunity.” “It’s like trying to protect them from an avalanche.”

Many parents expressed anguish that their children might suffer developmental delays because they have never had a play date or any of the usual contact with children their age.

“When my 2.5-year-old had his first friend over to play, he kept touching her to see if she was real,” wrote Lauren Klinger of St. Petersburg, Fla. “It’s soul-crushing.”

Angela Smith, a former web designer who founded a nonprofit organization called Pantry Collective, is now a stay-at-home mother of a 2-year-old girl in Colorado Springs. “She doesn’t know all she’s missing out on, and I’m thankful for that,” Ms. Smith wrote. “But I do, and that’s what makes me sad.”

Many wrote of how the pandemic had exposed societal divisions, a lack of trust in government and public health, and a lack of empathy for others. One New York City mother wrote that she and her toddler often wait 20 minutes to use their apartment building’s elevator by themselves, rather than risk riding with an unmasked passenger.

A parent in Denver wrote: “We are a nation of selfish children, except for the children themselves.”

Katie Nelb, an information technology worker and mother of a 3-year-old in McKinney, Texas, wrote: “I have friends and acquaintances who have gotten on planes, gone to events, and wandered through grocery stores either knowingly having Covid or while having symptoms but not wanting to test. And because I know so many people are doing those things while my child has no protection, my family is forced to still live in lockdown after two and a half years.”

Alli Chan is a pediatric intensive care nurse in St. Louis. Her husband is an emergency medicine doctor. Their youngest is nearly 3; their 6-year-old has immune deficiencies.

She and her husband felt so strongly about protecting their children that they told relatives that they would see them only if they were vaccinated. “We have to protect our children, and if our extended family isn’t willing to do that, then we’ll protect our children from them, too,” she wrote.

Kristen Green Wiewora of Searcy, Ark., said that others in her town did not share her worries about the spread of infection in public indoor spaces, making it harder for her to keep her own children, aged 4 and 8, wearing masks.

“We are the only ones still masking our unvaccinated child,” she wrote. “I have resorted to paying my children a dollar every time they wear a mask in public indoor places.”

Ms. Pratt’s son Julian is now 2½ and curious about everything. She ticked off what he missed as other Americans got vaccinated and returned “to the comfort of familiar routines and everyday freedom”:

“He has never even been to a grocery store or a mall,” she wrote. “Never gone trick-or-treating with friends. Never sat on Santa’s lap. Never been to an indoor family gathering. He has yet to meet or spend time with the majority of our friends and family.

“We are on the inside, looking out,” she wrote.

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