Left to right: Diana Gupta, Anoushka Gupta, Rohana Gupta, and Vikramaditya Gupta.

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India Currents gave me a voice in days I was very lost. Having my articles selected for publishing was very validating – Shailaja Dixit, Executive Director, Narika, Fremont

Fremont is home to one of the largest South Asian populations in the Bay Area. It is common to find our garages open, children playing outside, while parents bond over wine and cheese, and more often than not, chai and samosas. 

So when earlier this month the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine was approved for children between 5 – 11 years old, there were some who were ready to vaccinate their children right away, and others that voiced concerns about the vaccine.

“We looked to get the absolute first appointments we could get and found a drive-thru on November 3rd, the first day of the eligibility of the vaccination for that age range. We traveled a total of nearly 3 hours round trip to get it on day one and at a drive-thru,” said my neighbor Vikramaditya Gupta, parent to kids Anoushka (11) and Rohana (7).

“Together, with science leading the charge, we have taken another important step forward in our nation’s fight against the virus that causes COVID-19. We know millions of parents are eager to get their children vaccinated and with this decision, we now have recommended that about 28 million children receive a COVID-19 vaccine,” said Dr. Walensky, Director of the CDC in a news release. The dose for young children contains one-third the amount of active ingredients compared to the adult dose. Children would receive a second dose 21 days or more after their first shot.

As of November 4, over 6.5 million children have tested positive for COVID-19 (since the onset of the pandemic) according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Pfizer’s research indicates that the vaccine is safe and 90.7% effective in preventing COVID-19 infections. So why are parents still hesitant to let their children get vaccinated? Historical mistrust of the health system in addition to the current-day disparities in healthcare has made many communities of color reluctant to get vaccinated. If the adults are not vaccinated, data shows that they are reluctant to vaccinate their kids.

To provide parents with the reassurance and confidence they need to ensure that they are making the absolute right decision for their families, Dr. Mark Ghaly, Secretary of the California Health and Human Services Agency, answers questions about the rollout, efficacy and safety of the vaccine at the Ethnic Media Services briefing.

Is the vaccine effective? Should children wait to get it? Is it safe for all backgrounds?

Pfizer’s data as presented to the FDA says its vaccine is safe and 90.7% effective against symptomatic Covid-19 in children ages 5 to 11. In the trial, which included 2,268 children, there were three Covid-19 cases among the group that received the vaccine and 16 cases in the placebo group. 

Pediatricians are advising parents not to wait. With increased circulation of the highly transmissible SARS-CoV-2 Delta variant, the CDC reports that hospitalization rates were 10 times higher among unvaccinated than among fully vaccinated adolescents. Dr. Ghaly’s advice is to turn to your trusted health professional and get your questions answered so you can make the best decision for your family with a great deal of confidence. He is a father of 4 young kids and all of his family is vaccinated. Vaccinating younger age groups would help the U.S. move toward Covid’s “endemic” phase, where the virus is still circulating but at lower levels than it is now.

Dr. Ghaly, “Studies have been very good about making sure that it is a representative sample of the population. So, all races and ethnicities, young people with pre-existing conditions and those with none.” He urges parents to talk to your pediatrician to make an informed decision.

As a parent, Vikramaditya Gupta says, “We are on track to have peak immunity by mid-December, so we are excited to start to re-socialize in 2022. My kids absolutely need it. The repercussions of our choice to keep our kids at home will no doubt take many months and perhaps years to overcome. We didn’t come to that decision lightly and are painfully aware of the impact on our kids. It was one of the most difficult choices that we have ever made in our lives.” He adds, “Why am I afraid of my kids getting COVID, even if the symptoms are mild in most kids? I am deathly afraid of what we don’t yet fully know about the long-term impact of COVID-19 on kids. There are some preliminary studies that are showing some of the negative long-term impacts but they are still in their infancy still. It is the unknown that is most scary to me.”

Anoushka (11) and Rohana (7) on Diwali, just a day after their vaccinations.

Can the Flu Vaccine and Covid vaccine be taken together?

If your healthcare practitioner thinks it’s safe, then yes, you can get a COVID-19 vaccine and other vaccines, including a flu vaccine, at the same visit. Experience with other vaccines has shown that the way our bodies develop protection, known as an immune response, and possible side effects after getting vaccinated are generally the same when given alone or with other vaccines. Kids already get some routine childhood vaccines for different infections in a single shot, such as the diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis (DTaP) vaccine. And doctors often give multiple shots during one office visit. The immune system handles these well. 

What are the side effects and should I be worried about myocarditis?

FDA scientists have noted the risk of myocarditis and pericarditis but said the benefits of the shots, including preventing severe disease, hospitalization and death, would generally outweigh the risk of the rare inflammatory heart conditions. Two studies in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) and a research letter in JAMA Internal Medicine found that myocarditis following the covid vaccination is rare and usually mild.

The CDC states that most patients with myocarditis or pericarditis who received care responded well to medicine and rest and felt better quickly. Patients can usually return to their normal daily activities after their symptoms improve.

Another concern is the impact on fertility, “to date, and this has been looked at with great attention, there has been no connection to fertility issues for adults, either men or women or young people as well,” assures Dr. Ghaly.

What if your Religious Beliefs are in opposition to the vaccine for you and your children?

Title VII prohibits discrimination in employment based on religion and includes a right for job applicants and employees to request an exception – here, a “reasonable accommodation” – from an employer requirement that conflicts with their sincerely held religious beliefs, practices, or observances. 

Dr. Ghaly, “If you have a religious belief against getting the covid vaccine, I wonder if those same beliefs hold with other vaccines, for school and for other illnesses we know we can prevent with vaccinations? How is this one different? These are good conversations to have with your faith communities, so they can come back with accurate information, a complete picture to help make the determination.” 

Hosting vaccination sites at schools, particularly Title 1 schools, to get more young people vaccinated.

These vaccine clinics on campus, with the involvement of trusted school staff, is key to improving access and helping overcome hesitancy — particularly in communities with low overall vaccination rates. These would also offer vaccines to anyone who needs them including adults.

Getting more people vaccinated is our way out of this. The overarching point is that these are some of the most effective, safe, and successful vaccines we have seen in modern medicine and to be able to deliver them to all Californians. Dr. Ghaly, “ we want to do all we can to wrap a thick blanket of protection around our state” with these vaccines.

Mona Shah is a multi-platform storyteller with expertise in digital communications, social media strategy, and content curation for Twitter and LinkedIn for C-suite executives. A journalist and editor, her experience spans television, cable news, and magazines. An avid traveler and foodie, she loves artisan food and finding hidden gems: restaurants, recipes, destinations. She can be reached at: mona@indiacurrents.com

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Mona Shah

Mona Shah is a multi-platform storyteller with expertise in digital communications, social media strategy, and content curation for Twitter and LinkedIn for C-suite executives. A journalist and editor,...