It’s been two-and-a-half years and COVID-19 is still around. According to Black Women Rally for Action, 231 Blacks—12 years and older, were vaccinated between Sept. 2 and Sept. 8 in Los Angeles County, compared to 490 the week before. (down by 259 vaccinations).
Last month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) loosened many of its recommendations for battling the coronavirus. This shift puts more of the onus on individuals, rather than on schools, businesses and other institutions, to limit viral spread.
Without a national school mandate, though, fewer than 50% of youth 6 months to 11 years old have had their shot. Even though COVID-19 vaccines are available for youngsters, there is definite vaccination hesitation by some parents.
“I think you have to look at it the same way as the flu shot,” said Dr. Vanessa Gavin-Headen, a family practice physician at the Kaiser Permanente Medical Center Long Beach offices. “Unfortunately we have to learn to live with the virus. It’s not going anywhere. Eventually it (COVID-19 vaccine) will be treated as the flu shots. We encourage you, strongly, to get them, but cannot force you.”
Gavin-Headen explained that many vaccines have been around for a long while like MMR (measles, mumps and rubella); polio; and tetanus and must be given to children before they can be enrolled in school.
“If they were fake, they would not still be around,” she said, noting their effectiveness against disease. The polio vaccine was first developed by Dr. Jonas Salk in 1955 and shots are still being given as prevention tools.
“The proof is their longevity,” Gavin-Headen said. “I don’t know, personally, of any vaccine that’s been taken off the market.”
She explained that the public health community learns more and more as time goes on, to prevent diseases. But, if vaccines are not mandated, COVID-19 cases may decrease, but never really be totally controlled, said the doctor. To reach “herd immunity,” where the virus no longer circulates throughout the community, at least 85% of the population needs to be vaccinated.
“We have to get a large number of people vaccinated to get herd immunity,” Gavin-Headen said. “Bouts of illnesses happen when you stop getting vaccinations.”
As a family physician, Gavin-Headen believes that parents need to have an established trust with their child’s physician and feel comfortable talking to their doctor. Likewise, the doctor has to hear them out and give parents accurate information.
“I ask what can I do to remove some of their ideas, or refute something wrong that they read on facebook or were told by a friend,” she said. “If you open the door, they will talk.”
Gavin-Headen explained that the mild side effects of getting a shot far outweigh the effects of getting sick from the virus, or experiencing long covid – brain fog, fever, tiredness, shortness of breath, etc.
“A lot of people haven’t had the right information,” she said, further explaining what happens to the body after inoculation. “What you’re doing is stimulating the immune system. Each person’s body response is different.”
She said she has had a lot of conversations with parents who have a lot of questions. But that’s OK.
“Parents first are really asking for themselves,” she said of the vaccines. “If they are on the fence themselves, surely, they are not going to do it for their child.”
The doctor feels that its best parents ask questions they need to ask in order to feel more comfortable in getting their children vaccinated.
“Would I want to be the one when my child got covid and had multisystem inflammatory syndrome?” Gavin-Headen asked. “Again, it doesn’t happen often, but it can. I wouldn’t want to be one of the ones to say ‘if I had,’ or ‘I wish I had.”