Opinion: Do it for the children: Take the vaccine and mask up

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s journalists follow the facts, because you deserve to know what’s really going on.

With the recent, significant uptick in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, we’re facing a stark reality: if vaccination rates don’t improve soon, neither will this pandemic. Healthcare workers are seeing firsthand the heartbreaking effects of low vaccination rates, including the pandemic’s toll on children’s health and well-being. Facts are important as people make crucial decisions and personal choices.

To make progress against COVID-19 — and to give our children the safety and normalcy they desperately need and deserve — more people need to get vaccinated.

COVID-19 is dangerous, disruptive and damaging

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Early on, COVID-19 posed the biggest threat to older adults, while most children who contracted the virus generally had mild or no symptoms. Now, the virus is impacting younger people at a faster rate, largely because those under 12 years of age cannot get vaccinated. Without enough people vaccinated, COVID-19 is mutating into strains that impact people — including children — differently.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the delta variant now accounts for the majority of new cases. In the past month, positive test results among children aged 0-17 years have increased by 1,450% in our state. The same age group in Georgia has seen a total of 116,670 overall cases and 1,472 hospitalizations, and tragically, 12 deaths. Healthcare systems providing pediatric care are seeing unprecedented increases in emergency department and urgent care visits for COVID-19, in addition to increasing pediatric admissions at our hospitals, primarily among kids with pre-existing conditions. Kids are being affected.

Our children’s well-being is also at stake. Quarantines and other disruptions to children’s social lives, school schedules and normal routines, as well as the ongoing controversy about vaccination and masking, can pose serious consequences to their physical, emotional and mental health.

Also, while most children generally fared well with previous waves of COVID infection in Georgia, the uncertainty and fear during this prolonged pandemic may have deep, lasting and life-altering effects. Additionally, with more than 19,000 confirmed deaths from COVID in Georgia, children related to those lost will forever be affected.

The vaccine has been granted Emergency Use Authorization approval for children 12 and older and the Pfizer vaccine gained full FDA approval this week, yet less than 30% of 12 to 15-year-olds have been fully vaccinated in the U.S. Therefore, 70% of these children are currently without the protection provided by vaccines, placing them at significant risk for serious and potentially long-term physical, emotional, and mental health consequences.

Letting COVID-19 spread lets it get ahead

Vaccination is the best protection we currently have, but we are in a race against virus mutations; the longer we allow COVID to spread, the more we allow it to mutate. The delta variant may be tame compared to other variants that may arise as long as we don’t achieve the necessary vaccination levels. Without increased vaccination rates in Georgia, we are perilously close to letting the mutations get ahead of the protection of current vaccines.

Given the more contagious delta variant, everyone should also continue practicing the three W’s: Washing hands, wearing masks and watching distance. A press release from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) supporting pediatric vaccination included a statement from the chair of the AAP Council on School Health, Dr. Sonja O’Leary: “Combining layers of protection that include vaccinations, masking, and clean hands hygiene will make in-person learning safe and possible for everyone … . Now is the time for all of us to work together to keep our kids healthy and safe.”

Getting vaccinated matters

More than a year and a half into the COVID-19 pandemic, hospitals that serve adults are again reaching capacity, people are still dying, our healthcare professionals are overworked and exhausted and the health and well-being of children are at stake. All of these are vaccine-preventable outcomes.

COVID-19 vaccination is one of the most important choices you can make to help everyone and everything get back to some level of normalcy. Decisions about vaccination should be grounded in the medical, scientific and clinical data and facts, professional expertise, and recommendations of trustworthy healthcare professionals who work tirelessly each day to keep people safe.

Though children under 12 are not yet eligible for vaccination, family, friends, neighbors, educators, and others in their circles can offer a vital layer of protection by getting vaccinated. Older, vaccine-eligible youth who are back at school or college can increase their protection from expected, repeat exposures to the virus by being fully vaccinated, along with practicing the 3W’s.

By making the personal choice to get vaccinated and wear a mask, you are making a choice to protect the children.

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

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Dr. Avril Beckford

Credit: contributed

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Dr. Avril Beckford

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Dr. Avril Beckford is chief pediatric officer, Wellstar Health System.

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0011601-18KH James Fortenberry, Grady Faculty and staff portraits for Emory First project Amanda Cantrell

Credit: Kay Hinton

Credit: Kay Hinton

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0011601-18KH James Fortenberry, Grady Faculty and staff portraits for Emory First project Amanda Cantrell

Credit: Kay Hinton

Credit: Kay Hinton

Dr. Jim Fortenberry is chief medical officer, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta and professor, pediatric critical care, Emory University School of Medicine.

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Dr. Lucky Jain

Credit: contributed

Credit: contributed

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Dr. Lucky Jain

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Dr. Lucky Jain is chief academic officer, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta and professor and chair, Emory School of Medicine, Department of Pediatrics.

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Dr Rebecca Reamy

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Dr Rebecca Reamy

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Dr. Rebecca Reamy is medical director of the Pediatric Emergency Department and chief of pediatrics, The Children’s Hospital at Piedmont Columbus Regional Midtown Campus.

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Dr. Shilpi Das

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Dr. Shilpi Das

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Dr. Shilpi Das, medical director pediatric hospitalists/division chief of pediatrics at Piedmont Athens Regional Medical Center

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DR. JONATHAN S. LEWIN Jonathan S. Lewin, M.D., is president and CEO, Emory Healthcare

Credit: Jack Kearse

Credit: Jack Kearse

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DR. JONATHAN S. LEWIN Jonathan S. Lewin, M.D., is president and CEO, Emory Healthcare

Credit: Jack Kearse

Credit: Jack Kearse

Dr. Jonathan S. Lewin is chief executive officer and chairman of the board, Emory Healthcare.

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Dr. Armando Castillo

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Dr. Armando Castillo

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Dr. Armando Castillo Jr. is chief of pediatrics, Northeast Georgia Medical Center.

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Michelle Wallace, R.N.

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Michelle Wallace, R.N.

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Michelle Wallace is chief nursing officer, Grady Health System.