A sigh of relief for concerned parents, as FDA approves the COVID vaccine for children

There has been a mobilization of online groups opposed to the mandate and the rollout of vaccines for children.
A crowd stands in front of the California Capitol holding up signs.
A protest against vaccine mandates at the California Capitol in Sacramento, Calif. (Caroline Ghisolfi/Peninsula Press)

Parents in California are signing up to get their children vaccinated, following the FDA’s approval of the COVID jab for 5- to 11-year-olds in October. 

“We have the boys scheduled to have their vaccines on November 16,” said Katie Holeman, who lives in Sacramento and has been homeschooling her children throughout the pandemic. “They will be fully vaccinated by Christmas.”

Holeman’s nine-year-old son is immunocompromised, and she has been concerned that he could be seriously affected by COVID-19. “If he got covid he might die,” said Holeman.

The rollout of the vaccine for younger children means that Holeman could soon feel safe sending her boys back to school. 

“They are excited and will get to go back to in-person school in the new year,” said Holeman. “We’re optimistic, but we realise it doesn’t eradicate COVID.”

The FDA has given emergency-use authorization for the vaccine for children 5 years and older. The health authorities will also meet soon to discuss whether it should receive full approval.

California Governor Gavin Newsom announced a school mandate for the COVID vaccine if it gets full approval for children by the FDA. 

However, since the announcement of the mandate on October 1, there has been a mobilization of online groups opposed to the mandate and the rollout of vaccines for children.

Most of the groups argue that it would violate parental rights and would put children’s health at risk. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that children above the age of 5 receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

The vaccine rollout

Health officials in the state plan to offer the vaccine to 3.5 million children in California. https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2021-11-03/california-to-give-covid-19-vaccines-to-younger-kids-today

“So far everybody I know has been able to get the spots. Some as early as this weekend. They’ve been adding more and more over the weekend,” said Holeman.

It couldn’t come soon enough for Holeman. Doctors are investigating Holeman’s son for a serious underlying health condition, after he became extremely unwell from chicken pox during the pandemic.

The idea is that the COVID vaccine will help mitigate the spread of the coronavirus in schools, the community and protect vulnerable children. 

“I don’t expect any unexpected side effects in kids, and from my perspective it is extremely safe to move on. We will continue to monitor, but we’ve been motoring all this time,” said Dr Peter Chin-Hong, an infectious disease physician at the University of California, San Francisco.

“We don’t want schools to be disrupted, and people and their kids to bear the consequences by the decision made by one family [to not get vaccinated] – they are in a communal environment,” said Dr Chin-Hong. 

Dr Chin-Hong, who said that false information about the vaccine is being spread, added: “Most vaccines in the world are given to kids, their immune systems are very agile – it can have memory for many years after.”

Pushback against the vaccine

There have been several groups that have formed to argue against the COVID vaccine mandate in California. One group on Facebook has over 70,000 members. Although this page has been removed after it was reviewed for violating Facebook’s misinformation guidelines. 

These social media pages often use terms such as c*vid va<<cine to avoid being moderated by mainstream social media platforms, such as Instagram and Facebook.

There are numerous groups on Telegram, a less moderated social media platform and messaging app, that oppose the COVID jab for children – these are online spaces where misleading content is shared widely. 

“When it starts to become about children the issues become more charged,” said Richard Carpiano, a professor at UC Riverside who specializes in vaccine hesitancy. “We know that the messaging prays on those fears.”. 

“There are lots of bad faith actors out there who are pushing different types of narratives and untruths about vaccines,” said Carpiano.

Most groups online focus on what they call “medical freedom” and potential adverse side effects.

Professor Carpiona said that the “medical freedom mantra existed before COVID.”

The CDC says on its website that reports of side effects “are rare and the known and potential benefits of COVID-19 vaccination outweigh the known and potential risks, including the possible risk of myocarditis or pericarditis.” 

A state-wide mandate?

Legal challenges are being organized against the planned state mandate.

Yet, legal expert Dorit Reiss, a professor of law at UC Hastings, believes the state mandate is likely to survive against possible opposition.

“A mandate can stand on very strong constitutional grounds,” said Reiss. “Mandates have previously been challenged on grounds of religion and personal liberty but have failed.”

“No court, state or federal, has ever found a state mandate unconstitutional,” said Reiss.

Some school districts in California have already begun mandating the COVID vaccine, including Sacramento, where Holeman lives, with some facing opposition in the courts.

“A lot of parents are skeptical [about giving the vaccine to children]”, said Holeman. “But I have yet to hear a good argument.

“We really do trust science. If a pediatrician had a concern or people we trust, we might be more worried about it. Nobody has had a massive concern,” said Holeman. “The positives outweigh the negatives.”

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