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To get a shot or not: Long Island parents have mixed views on COVID-19 vaccine

Dina Seaman, of Massapequa Park, said she is

Dina Seaman, of Massapequa Park, said she is uncertain about getting her two kids vaccinated against COVID-19. Credit: Johnny Milano

The prospect of children becoming eligible for COVID-19 vaccines has sparked varied responses from Long Island parents, with some voicing wariness about inoculating their kids against the virus and others aligning themselves with medical consensus on the issue.

Long Island public health experts said they expect young children to eventually become eligible for vaccines, and that herd immunity cannot be achieved without inoculating some of them. If enough people forgo the vaccines, for themselves or their kids, the coronavirus pandemic could be prolonged, experts warned, risking more deaths and further mutations of the virus that could make the vaccines less effective.

"It is so critically important to help children get vaccinated," said Henry Bernstein, a professor of pediatrics at the Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra-Northwell. "Vaccination is really the only way to effectively stop the spread of this disease."

What to know

  • Medical experts said Long Island parents who are mixed on whether to get their children vaccinated against COVID-19 should:
  • Consult their pediatricians;
  • Seek out information from credible medical and scientific institutions such as the CDC;
  • And be wary of advice given over social media.

COVID-19 has killed more than 500,000 people in the country, including hundreds of children.

Some parents said in interviews they are eager to get their kids inoculated now that those 16 and older are eligible for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and that clinical trials are underway in younger children. They noted the vaccines have been deemed safe and effective by public health officials, and that they will protect their kids and others against a virus.

"Maybe I’m dating myself, but I do remember — I was very, very small — when polio was eradicated," said Warner Frey of East Northport, who plans to vaccinate his three sons if they become eligible. "Polio did not get eradicated by herd immunity. Polio got eradicated by vaccinations. It's common sense."

Others expressed ambivalence or outright opposition, citing concerns about the possible short- and long-term side effects and about the speed with which the vaccines were developed.

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"This is just too new for me," said Dina Seaman of Massapequa Park, who is uncertain about vaccinating her two kids. "I want to do what's right. It's a hard decision."

Of the three vaccines the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has authorized for emergency use, one made by Moderna and another by Johnson & Johnson are approved for people 18 and older. Pfizer-BioNTech was the first vaccine approved in the United States by the FDA.

Pfizer has asked the FDA to amend its emergency use authorization to include 12- to 15-year-olds after clinical trials showed its vaccine to be very effective in that age group. Moderna and Johnson & Johnson are also testing their vaccines on younger children.

Sharon Nachman, chief of pediatric infectious diseases at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital, said she hoped the vaccines would eventually be shown to be safe and effective for children as young as 6 months old.

That would enable Elizabeth Cabrera of East Setauket to vaccinate her sons, who are 7 and 5. She said she would be comfortable doing so after looking at data on the effects of the vaccines in children.

"As long as there’s no crazy adverse effects, I feel like the benefit outweighs the risk," she said.

Given choice, 17-year-old got vaccinated

As a nurse, Rosamaria McGuinness of Massapequa Park was among the earliest people in the country eligible for a shot, which she received in December. Since then, she estimates she has administered more than 1,000 COVID-19 vaccines on Long Island. But when her 17-year-old daughter Ariana became eligible, she left it up to her whether to get one.

"I give her all the pros and cons," she said. "I don’t force it."

Ariana, a senior at Farmingdale High School, opted to be vaccinated.

"With me playing volleyball and going back to school full time, I just want to feel a little bit more safer," she said. She and some other students at her school see vaccines "as kind of a beacon of light in this messed-up situation we’re in."

Other parents aren’t so sure about getting their kids inoculated.

When her 16-year-old son became eligible for the vaccine, Seaman was torn about whether to book him an appointment. So she turned to Facebook, asking other local parents in an online community group whether they would get their kids vaccines.

The results were decisive: Most who responded would not.

"I figured most people would say no," said Seaman, 51, who herself has not been vaccinated. "A lot of people are afraid like I am. A lot of people have distrust — especially when it comes to our kids."

Seaman expressed concern about the long-term side effects of the vaccines, the speed with which they were approved, and the fact that manufacturers cannot be held legally liable if someone gets sick as a result of one. It did not help her anxieties when the federal government on Tuesday recommended pausing use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine after six recipients developed blood clots and one died.

Parent concerned about side effects

Jensuh McCormack of Bayport said she would not get her three daughters vaccinated, as all three of them have had allergic reactions to vaccines.

"If you’re that one person who gets that" adverse reaction, "it's not so rare anymore," said McCormack, who does not plan to get vaccinated.

While a "small number" of people have had severe allergic reactions to COVID-19 vaccines, they are "extremely rare," according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Seaman and McCormack are not alone in their reluctance. A poll released Wednesday by Monmouth University found that 21% of 800 American adults surveyed earlier this month "likely will never get" a COVID-19 vaccine.

Public health experts are encouraging parents to get their children vaccinated against COVID-19 when they become eligible.

While it is true children generally do not get as sick from COVID-19 as adults, millions of kids in the country have been infected, thousands have been hospitalized, and hundreds have died, Bernstein said. And while children may not on average get as sick from COVID-19 as adults, they can still pass it to older, more vulnerable people, he said.

Regarding the problems with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, Nachman noted more than 6 million people have received it, meaning the risk of that reaction may be less than one in a million.

Sam Halabi, a law professor at University of Missouri who specializes in vaccine regulation, said it is true the federal government gave COVID-19 vaccine manufacturers legal immunity in case a vaccine recipient gets sick. But he noted the government did the same during prior public health crises so that manufacturers would not be reluctant to aggressively develop vaccine candidates.

He said those who get sick as a result of vaccines can apply for government compensation.

As for long-term side effects, Aaron Glatt, chairman of medicine and chief of infectious diseases at Mount Sinai South Nassau hospital in Oceanside, said vaccines rarely pose any.

"We have over a 100-year history of knowing that almost all of the vaccination complications are short term," he said. "Vaccines save lives."

Medical experts said parents uncertain about vaccinating their children should consult their pediatricians, seek out information from credible medical and scientific institutions such as the CDC, and be wary of advice given over social media.

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As a public service, this article is available for all. Newsday readers support our strong local journalism by subscribing.  Please show you value this important work by becoming a subscriber now.

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