Opinion: Get your young child vaccinated for COVID-19

State Sen. Will Haskell thanks Carly Plymel after receiving his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at the Stamford Health vaccination site in Stamford last year.

State Sen. Will Haskell thanks Carly Plymel after receiving his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at the Stamford Health vaccination site in Stamford last year.

Tyler Sizemore / Hearst Connecticut Media

Last month, the federal government announced that it was safe for children between the ages of six months and 5 years to receive their COVID-19 vaccine. More than two years into a deadly pandemic, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration had finally completed their exhaustive testing. At last, parents could protect their kids with the immunizations that had saved so many lives.

However, a few weeks later, vaccination rates remain concerningly low among children in Connecticut. The Department of Public Health reported that only 4 percent of newly eligible kids in our state have received their first shots, meaning fewer than 10,000 doses have been administered out of up to 180,000 eligible children. Surveys indicate that many parents feel like they just don’t have enough information. We’ve known each other for a long time (Dr. Sollinger served as Sen. Haskell’s pediatrician), so we thought we’d team up to share some helpful information.

Given the rapid spread of COVID-19 and its many variants, some parents likely think their child doesn’t need a COVID-19 vaccination, as they have developed a natural immunity from a past infection. Studies have shown that the protection conferred by a COVID-19 infection is not long-lasting, especially with continued viral mutations. While those mutations have also reduced the efficacy of COVID-19 vaccinations, studies indicate that receiving the vaccine reduces odds of contracting COVID-19 by up to 80 percent among children. If your child recently contracted COVID-19, experts say they can receive a vaccination after symptoms resolve or can wait up to three months before receiving a dose.

It is known at this point that COVID-19 is less serious for young children than older populations, but that is no reason to eschew vaccinations. Vaccines reduce the length and severity of an illness, and while many children can overcome a case of COVID-19 easily, some young patients do experience severe symptoms. As of July 13, 453 children under the age of 5 have died from COVID-19 infections since the start of the pandemic in 2020 in the United States. If that number seems low, compare it to the number of children who died due to influenza in 2019-2020: 81. That means, nationally, in two years, COVID-19 has killed more than five times as many children as one of the worst flu seasons on record; on an annual basis, it’s more than 2.5 times as deadly among children.

Finally, parents concerned about side effects should know that young people receiving the COVID-19 vaccine have not experienced any worse side effects, in severity or in quantity, than other routine childhood vaccinations. Many children do not have side effects at all after their vaccination. The COVID-19 vaccine can even be co-administered at the same time as other vaccinations, meaning the shot can simply become a routine part of your child’s medical checkup.

With the BA.5 variant on the rise, we encourage every parent to speak with their pediatrician and consider immunizing their whole family against COVID-19. To learn more about the vaccine or to find a clinic near you, visit portal.ct.gov/coronavirus.

State Sen. Will Haskell represents the 26th District, which includes Bethel, New Canaan, Redding, Ridgefield, Weston, Westport, Wilton. He is a member of the Public Health Committee. Dr. Jonathan Sollinger is a pediatrician at Willows Pediatric Group in Westport.