Many Parents Want Their Teens To Get The COVID Vaccine. Others Aren't So Sure

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Starting this week, all teenagers 16 and older in Massachusetts became eligible to get the coronavirus vaccine, and the shots may soon be approved for even younger children.

While some parents are eager to get their children vaccinated, others are skeptical.

Becky Bailey, of Amesbury, is among those hoping to get her teen a vaccine appointment as soon as possible. She pre-registered her 16-year-old daughter last week, and plans to look online at other sites, too.

"I'll call [the town vaccine clinic], I'll try CVS... [it's] a multi-pronged approach to find her a vaccine," she said.

Bailey says her daughter is eager to get the shot, as she wants to get a part-time job and in-person school resumes later this month.

"Her getting back out into the public and being exposed particularly to that younger age group which seems to be having an uptick in cases, I think it's one of those things that will make you feel more comfortable," she said.

Jennifer Freeman, of Amesbury, snagged vaccine appointments for her teenage sons  at a town clinic for those who work in the food industry, over the weekend.

"Everybody knows that trying to get an appointment is like trying to get concert tickets," Freeman said. "So it was really exciting to know they'll be protected."

Jennifer Freeman, center right, son Matt, husband Doug and son Andrew at the Lower Merrimack Valley regional vaccine clinic, where the elder Freemans both volunteer. The teens were able to get vaccinated over the weekend. COURTESY JENNIFER FREEMAN
Jennifer Freeman, center right, son Matt, husband Doug and son Andrew at the Lower Merrimack Valley regional vaccine clinic, where the elder Freemans both volunteer. The teens were able to get vaccinated over the weekend. (Courtesy Jennifer Freeman)

But not all parents feel the same way, despite state health data showing that more than 2,600 15-19-year-olds tested positive for the coronavirus over the past two weeks — and studies showing the vaccine is safe for older teens and adults.

Rachel Yovan, of Dudley, feels that not enough is known about the vaccines, so her teenagers will not be getting one.

"I think that I would rather take my chances with COVID," Yovan said. "Until we know long term effects from this, I don't think it's worth the risk. I think we're healthy enough to fight it off on our own. So I guess I'm thinking — don't fix something that's not broken."

For teens planning to attend college in the fall, it may be a requirement, as more colleges and universities across the country announce they will mandate the shots.

That is the case for the 18-year-old daughter of Heather Hill, of Arlington. Hill says she'll be relieved once her daughter is vaccinated.

"I just think from a public health perspective that I, as a parent, I'm going to feel more secure sending my child to college if I know there's a low risk of her catching COVID while at college," she said.

Hill also wants her 12- and 15-year-old children to get the shots by the summer.

"Our kids are going to camp. It's a sleep away camp in rural Wisconsin, and so we have our fingers crossed that they can get vaccinated before they leave," Hill said.

That might be possible, as vaccine maker Pfizer recently reported preliminary data showing that its vaccine is effective in 12-to-15-year-olds. The company also requested emergency authorization from federal regulators to begin giving the shots to that age group. Right now only the Pfizer vaccine can be given to those under 18. But both Pfizer and Moderna are studying their vaccines in younger kids.

Holly Robbins, of Charlton, said she would not allow her 12-year-old to get the shot. She's skeptical, especially after the pause in the use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine last week.

"For lack of a better term, I don't want my son being a guinea pig for the government with vaccines," Robbins said, "and I don't think that this has been through enough trials, so I don't think it's safe."

Many doctors say vaccinating the more than 1 million Massachusetts residents under the age of 18 will help get to herd immunity, the point at which so many people are immune to the virus that the outbreak is subdued. Dr. Rick Malley, who is in the infectious disease division at Boston's Children's Hospital, says although most children don't get severely ill from COVID, they can spread it to others.

"It's a very good development to try to, you know, encourage young people who may not be at highest risk of bad disease, but could be, in fact, transmitting, could still get sick. They could have long COVID," Malley said.

More than three million pediatric coronavirus cases have been reported nationwide, fewer than a quarter of all cases, but Dr. Malley says that could be an undercount because children are not tested as frequently as adults. He expects the next debate will be whether to mandate the vaccines for children, and whether even infants should get the shots.

This segment aired on April 20, 2021.


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Deborah Becker Host/Reporter
Deborah Becker is a senior correspondent and host at WBUR. Her reporting focuses on mental health, criminal justice and education.



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