As a pediatrician, I have been fortunate enough to see firsthand the incredible effect that vaccines have on both individual health and that of the community at large. A perfect example is the highly contagious gastrointestinal infection known as Rotavirus. When I was a pediatric resident back in the early 2000s, we sometimes had entire units in the hospital that were filled by young children infected with Rotavirus. Then, in 2006, a Rotavirus vaccine was licensed and quickly became part of the childhood immunization schedule. Before long, hospitalizations from Rotavirus plummeted. A study conducted in 2016 showed that infants had a 95% reduced chance of hospitalization from Rotavirus as compared to the pre-vaccine era. Indeed, I cannot recall the last time that I had to admit a patient to the hospital with Rotavirus.
This brings us to the situation with COVID-19, another highly contagious virus that has largely ruled our lives for much of the past 18 months. Fortunately for adolescents and adults, a safe and highly effective vaccine is available that has been shown to dramatically reduce the incidence of severe illness and hospitalizations (by as much as 95%). While it is true that the emergence of the more highly contagious Delta variant has led to breakthrough infections in vaccinated individuals, the vast majority of these are either asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic. Unfortunately, there remains a sizable population of individuals who have not yet been vaccinated. This puts not only the individual at risk but the community at large as well. This is especially true for younger children (under 12), who remain vulnerable to the virus as they cannot yet be vaccinated. While it is true that younger children are, generally, at lower risk of more severe illness from COVID-19 (likely due to a more robust “innate” immune response as compared to adults), there remains a small percentage of children who will end up needing hospitalization. As the number of children getting infected becomes higher (children made up 27% of reported cases in the US for the week ending 9/2), it follows that more children will, unfortunately, be hospitalized.
So what is the best way to protect not only yourselves, your children, and your community? The answer is simple: vaccination! If you have not yet been vaccinated, there’s no better time to do it than now! As I mentioned above, the vaccine is safe and highly effective. To date, there have been over 5 BILLION (!!) vaccines administered worldwide and the vast majority of side effects are very mild. As we head into the fall and winter, it is likely that cases will eventually spike again as the virus spreads efficiently indoors and in dry air. If you have an adolescent (12 and older) who has yet to be vaccinated, schedule an appointment for them as well. With school starting and close contacts increasing, it will put them at a higher risk of exposure, especially if community transmission is high (as it currently is in Dutchess, Orange, and Ulster counties). By vaccinating yourselves and your adolescents, you will also be helping to protect children under 12. Indeed, we have not seen the same recent dramatic spike in pediatric cases and hospitalizations in the Northeast, likely directly related to the very high adolescent and adult vaccination rates as compared to the rest of the United States. As you can see, the evidence is clear: vaccination is our way out of this tragic pandemic and the quickest path to an eventual return to normal for both ourselves and our children.
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