Why COVID-19 vaccination for N.H. kids is a health and economic issue
A COVID-19 vaccine for children ages five to 11 is expected to be available in the coming weeks, but the rollout will look different than it did for adults. Many Granite Staters still have lingering questions about it.
Dr. Marie Ramas is the medical director of Gatehouse Treatment Center in Nashua and president-elect of the New Hampshire Academy of Family Physicians and NHPR spoke with Dr. Ramas about what Granite Staters need to know about vaccines and kids.
Peter Biello: So you work with children and families in your practice. What have you been hearing from them about the COVID 19 vaccine for children?
Dr. Marie Ramas: I think it's in a couple of camps. On one hand, I have parents and families that are very excited because, as you know, kids have returned back to school and with increased exposure to COVID and other illnesses that has left parents concerned about potential missed days of school and falling behind, even more so given the lost year that we've had in remote learning situation. And then the other camp is just uncertainty. I have parents that have either gotten vaccinated themselves or who have chosen not to be vaccinated and are concerned about potential side effects from the vaccine itself.
Peter Biello: Recent national polling shows that about half of parents are not planning to get the COVID vaccine for their kids. These numbers are, of course, constantly evolving, and you just described two camps. How much hesitation are you encountering among parents? Are the camps evenly split, or is there one much larger than the other?
Dr. Ramas: I think there's definitely a disparity, so there's a difference depending on the demographics of the patients that I'm speaking to. And so for our families that are of higher socioeconomic background or who identify as non-BIPOC, so Black, Indigenous or persons of color. I think that there is a higher tendency to support and to be more trusting of the science and of evidence. There are groups, particularly our new Americans, as those who identify as Black, Indigenous or persons of color that tend to have more vaccine curiosity and need to have more questions answered as well. So I do think there's a varying degree of comfort when talking about vaccination choices.
Peter Biello: Worth mentioning that the dose for children will be slightly different than the dose for adults.
But Dr. Ramas, as far as administration of the vaccine goes, there's not going to be state-run mass vaccination sites for kids like there were for adults. So families are going to have to rely on primary care providers, clinics and pharmacies. In your view, is that the right approach?
Dr. Ramas: I don't think so. So right now, our largest opportunity of again, helping to create a critical mass of herd immunity is to get those who are open and available to get vaccinated, to get them vaccinated as quickly as possible. And the reason for that is that in New Hampshire, we're seeing an exponential rise in cases, particularly in our school-age population. And as a family doctor, I'm very sensitive to the fact that our families need to have their kids in school. It's good for their social-emotional development, but there are also many families are unable to work appropriately if their kids are not in school. And so this is not only a public health issue, this is an economic issue as well.
Peter Biello: If more kids are vaccinated, would that change the debate about whether masks are necessary in schools? I mean, what vaccination rate do you think communities should reach before they drop indoor mask mandates?
Dr. Ramas: What we see worldwide is if the vaccination rate is upwards of 85 to 90 percent, then clearly we can be a little more lenient as far as mask wearing. But again, we are not at that place. As a matter of fact, for our adolescent population between 12 and 18, the rate of vaccination for COVID, it varies at anywhere from 18 percent, I believe, to less than 35 percent, depending on what numbers we use. And so that's very far from what we need.