Disagree with your co-parent about getting your young child the COVID vaccine? Here's what experts say.
Ever since an advisory panel to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommended last week that COVID-19 shots be made available to children ages 5 to 11, it has become clear that vaccinating children in this age group is a hot-button topic. Some parents have flooded social media with posts about how excited they are to vaccinate their children, while others have made it clear they think this is a bad idea. That debate has only ramped up now that the CDC has officially recommended that children in this age group get the COVID vaccine.
The decision on whether to vaccinate children has even extended to some households, where parents may be at odds on what is best.
Jené Sena's daughter just turned 12, and she tells Yahoo Life that she and her ex-husband are disagreeing on whether or not to get her vaccinated. "Our daughter had COVID just before her 12th birthday, less than 90 days ago, and he's insisting she get vaccinated because he has a new baby coming into the home," Sena says. "I'm not comfortable until it gets FDA approval for that age group, and I also know she has antibodies now, so she's somewhat protected."
Currently the FDA has granted an emergency use authorization (EUA) for the Pfizer vaccine for children ages 5 and up, which means the vaccine is recommended for these children. However, an emergency use authorization is different from full FDA approval — which requires more time and data. The Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine was granted full FDA approval for people ages 16 and up as of August. It was first made available under EUA in December 2020.
Sena says she and her former partner haven't reached a resolution yet, but they have a telemedicine appointment scheduled with their pediatrician to talk it out. "To be clear, I'm not anti-vax — I'm vaccinated myself," Sena says. "I'm just not as comfortable taking that step yet for my child when it's not FDA-approved for use in children yet."
Sara, who is being referred to by a pseudonym for privacy reasons, tells Yahoo Life that she and her husband are disagreeing on whether to vaccinate their 5-year-old son right now. "I want my son to get vaccinated," she says. "The data looks good, and we both want to feel more comfortable with him living a more normal life." But Sara's husband is one of the third of parents who wants to wait and see how other kids do with the vaccine before giving it to their child. "We're both vaccinated and have had no issues, and there is nothing to suggest that our son will have a problem," Sara said. "There's just so much fear-mongering around the vaccine right now that I think it's making my husband hesitant. I don't understand why he wants to wait."
But these aren't the only parents who are struggling to make a decision about vaccinating their kids against COVID-19. "I get this all the time — I have many families where the parents are split on vaccination," Dr. Danelle Fisher, a pediatrician and chair of pediatrics at Providence Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif., tells Yahoo Life.
Clinical psychologist Thea Gallagher, an assistant professor at NYU and co-host of the Mind in View podcast, tells Yahoo Life that this can be a "tricky" thing to navigate for parents. "It can definitely cause tension," she says. "For most parents, their main priority is the safety of their children. Whenever conversations involve children, it escalates the emotion of the conversation." Gallagher says that the "stakes also feel high," given that people have been living with a global pandemic for nearly two years and that children now make up nearly 25 percent of COVID-19 cases.
Gallagher recommends that parents look toward "trusted medical and scientific specialists" for guidance. "One thing we keep hearing is, 'I'm doing my own research, but there's a lot of misinformation out there," she says.
You can also have a conversation together with your child's pediatrician. "I'm always happy to have a conversation," Fisher says, noting that she usually starts things off with parents by saying, "Tell me your concerns."
"I could sit there and talk for hours about the vaccine, but I want to focus on what it is that makes parents nervous," she says. "Sometimes they have specific questions that I can address and point them toward good, reputable sources on the topic like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's website, which is very clear and easy to read."
From there, it's important for parents to discuss what they've learned, says Melissa Santos, a pediatric psychologist at Connecticut Children's Medical Center. "Really evaluate this information and ask yourselves if it makes sense to vaccinate your child," she says. "Balance that with your life: What do you want your days to be like?"
Clinical psychologist John Mayer, author of Family Fit: Find Your Balance in Life, tells Yahoo Life that it's crucial for parents to talk — and listen — to one another. "Really communicate," he says. "That means that each parent needs to be heard for their views and needs to really listen to the views of the other parent." He recommends that parents "check your anger at the door in these discussions and be open to what facts your co-parent is saying."
But while a lot of emphasis has been put on doing a personal risk-benefit analysis for each family, Dr. Thomas Russo, professor and chief of infectious disease at the University at Buffalo in New York, tells Yahoo Life that it just makes sense to vaccinate your child.
"The data looks good, and the efficacy of 90 percent is excellent," he says. He also points out that the risk of myocarditis — a big concern for parents — is significantly higher when you contract COVID-19 than from getting the vaccine. "There weren't even any cases of myocarditis in the group that was studied for the vaccine for 5- to 11-year-olds," he says. Russo also notes that there's nothing about the vaccine or the way it works that would suggest it could interfere with fertility — another concern that's often brought up among parents.
Fisher agrees. "The risks of contracting COVID disease is much higher than the potential risks from the COVID vaccine," she says. "We do have patients, even as children, who get 'long COVID.' It's brutal. The only way we're going to stop this pandemic is vaccination."
Fisher says she likes to provide information so each family can make the "right choice" for themselves. But, she adds, "The right choice is vaccination."
If you and your co-parent are still struggling to reach a decision after gathering information and it's putting a lot of strain on your relationship, Gallagher recommends seeing a couples counselor. While a counselor won't tell you what to do, "seeking out a professional can help get you back on the same page," Gallagher says.
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