On June 18, when Pfizer’s and Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccines for children under 5 were authorized for use, millions of parents across the country breathed a sigh of relief. After more than two years of the pandemic, this youngest group—around 20 million children in the U.S.—will finally be protected against severe illness and hospitalization from COVID-19. However, some parents still have doubts about giving the vaccines to their younger ones. In a survey conducted in April, prior to the vaccines’ authorization, 38 percent of parents of kids under 5 said they would wait and see how the vaccines work for other kids before they vaccinated their own.
We spoke to four Latina doctors across the country with infants or toddlers of their own about why they decided to get their kids vaccinated. Here’s what they said.
Melody Muñoz, MD, MPH
City: San Antonio
Affiliation: CentroMed San Antonio
Dr. Muñoz has a 21-month-old son who has been enrolled in the Pfizer vaccine trial since the summer of 2021, when he was 11 months old.
Knowing what I know about vaccines and science, I definitely wanted my child to participate in the trials to be able to have protection as soon as possible and to do [my] part in encouraging other families to say “this is safe, I believe in this, and I’m going to put my kid on the line, and we’re gonna do this because I know what’s going on. It’s not anything scary or dangerous.” And so there was a study available in Corpus Christi; I had to drive two and a half hours to get there. I was on the Pfizer side, signed up as soon as possible, and then got contacted by the study in Corpus, and we took the spot. We had our baby there at 11 months, which was actually right before he was going to start daycare. Turns out, he actually ended up getting the placebo doses, which we found out around January of this year. Then he got the actual vaccine doses. He just got his third dose in May. I felt very grateful to have that opportunity for my child and be a part of getting these safe studies moving along as quickly as we could.
So I can say I do know that these vaccines are safe. I know how the process works. And in fact, I’m so confident in the process that I enrolled my own child in the study, that he’s actually already been vaccinated, and he did really well. And so I understand that parents may have fears, but this is another classic example of the physician-patient relationship; I’m asking for their trust in this situation. And I hope that they can see that not only am I encouraging it, but I’ve done it in my own child. And that’s what I tell [parents] always, for whatever treatment, whether it’s a vaccine, whether it’s a prescription, whether it’s an antibiotic. So that they can see, in my example, that I’m putting my money where my mouth is, that this is the way I feel about the safety of this process.
Ana Palacios, MD, PhD
City: Savannah, Georgia
Affiliation: Georgia Southern University, Jiann-Ping Hsu College of Public Health
Dr. Palacios has a 5-year-old son and a 3-year-old daughter.
It’s such a relief that the vaccines for kids under 5 are approved. It’s been so hard to manage the pandemic with kids—I feel like it’s so important for them to have the chance to socialize with other people. In our case, especially because we live in another country (I’m from Colombia), we don’t have family close to us. So with the vaccine being approved, I already called my kids’ pediatrician to see when he gets the vaccines to get my girl vaccinated. Fortunately, my 5-year-old is already vaccinated. It’s a relief to know he’s protected against the severity of COVID-19. With my boy, right after the vaccine was approved for his age group—the second day!—we called the pediatrician and got him vaccinated. As a parent, it’s hard because it’s a needle, but you can talk to your kids and explain that this is for their well-being and for the people around them, and that thanks to this vaccine they won’t get sick and people around them won’t either, so it’s an act of generosity.
My uncle passed away from COVID-19 last year, the day the vaccine got to Bogotá. He was a healthy person and died from COVID-19. So it is truly relieving for me to know that my family is protected. Getting my kids vaccinated is so worth it.
Juliana Robles, MD
City: San Antonio
Affiliation: CentroMed, San Antonio
Dr. Robles has two children: a 3-and-a-half-year-old daughter and a 16-month-old son.
I’m pretty excited that we’re gonna have this opportunity to get my kids vaccinated. I’m relieved. I don’t know why it took so long, but I am glad that they were trying to get the right vaccine, the right doses. So I am happy they took the necessary steps so that we could have a safe vaccine for children. This whole time I felt really bad that I had protection, my husband had protection, and of course, my children, who were the most vulnerable, didn’t—so I’m mainly relieved.
I talk about vaccines with my daughter all the time. I mean, I’m a huge vaccine advocate, obviously, as a pediatrician. I think they’re so important: They’re one of the biggest lifesaving medications and interventions that we’ve had for humanity. So ever since she was little, I would talk to her about vaccines and how they help her be healthy and strong and be protected against getting sick: to help our immune system be strong and be able to have the soldiers—that’s what I also told her, it’s like little soldiers—who are going to help you win the battles against germs. And so that’s exciting for her because she’s all into the body right now. I’ve always made it a big deal for my kids to know that vaccines are important, that they’re there to make us healthy, strong, and they’re lifesaving.
My husband and I are really excited that the vaccine is going to protect our kids from getting a severe case, from having to go to the hospital, and from having some of those bad complications like the multi inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C) that can happen. And so knowing that they have that protection, then we can kind of try to live life a little bit, as we used to. The children can go to more public places that we were avoiding, and so we’re just excited to be able to kind of live a little bit more like we used to before this pandemic.
Diana Montoya-Williams, MD, FAAP
Affiliations: Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), CHOP PolicyLab, and Department of Pediatrics at the University of Pennsylvania
Dr. Montoya-Williams has two sons: a 2-year-old and a 5-year-old. Her 2-year-old was enrolled in the Moderna efficacy trials, the second phase of the manufacturer’s COVID-19 vaccine trial for kids.
It was a momentous occasion when they rolled out the vaccine for health care providers in December 2020. But it was kind of a bittersweet moment for me, because more so than myself, I really wanted everyone that I love to be vaccinated as soon as possible. We learned about the Moderna vaccine trial, so after the safety studies were done, we signed up for the second phase, the efficacy studies. I knew how mRNA vaccines work, I knew that they stayed in the body for very short periods of time, before sort of reading the instructions to the body and then dissolving away. So we signed our children up, and we were offered enrollment around October 2021. At that point, we were only weeks away from my older son turning 5 and being eligible for the Pfizer vaccine, because Pfizer had received the emergency authorization for that age group, so we knew at the time that we were offered a spot in the trial that my eldest would be eligible for getting vaccinated without needing to go through a study. So that’s why we elected to only enroll our 2-year-old. That month, they gave him his first dose, and then 20 days later they gave him his second dose—but we didn’t know if it was the real vaccine or if it was the placebo. And so when the vaccine was [authorized] last week, the trial’s research team was prepared and ready to have the infectious disease doctors call all of the families involved and ask them, “Do you want to know whether you got the real vaccine or not?” And they let us know that my son had received the real vaccine. And so he had been fully immunized since the end of November. In a series of emotional events, one of the most emotional days of the last two years for me was finding out that my second child was also immunized, finally. Even though it’d been months! To know for sure, finally, that yes, he has been protected and is protected. Having just one child vaccinated, I still felt in this uneasy limbo space of knowing that there’s something that can protect my children, but only one of them can get it right now. And so, last weekend, finding out that my youngest had it, was when my heart fully relaxed; the weight was fully lifted off my shoulders.
By and large, parents, in this pandemic, we’re all trying to do what’s best for our kids, we just may differ in terms of our opinion on what we think is best. I tend to really try to follow science and studies and research and try to read papers myself, if it’s something to do with my kids. I look at the numbers. I see whether my kid would have been represented in a study—that’s important to me as someone who studies racial [and] ethnic disparities in science and medicine and health. But I know that that’s the case. I knew that it would benefit my kid based on millions of data points. I know it’s safe. And I know COVID is more dangerous for them.