Parents weigh COVID-19 vaccination for their children

George Copeland Jr. | 5/20/2021, 6 p.m.
Kiara Gresham has been busy with the demands of her new small business, Cookie Jar Honeypot, and the need to …
Terri Roe, a registered nurse with Henrico County Public Schools, fills syringes with the Moderna coronavirus vaccine Jan. 21 at the Old Dominion Building at the Richmond Raceway, where the Richmond and Henrico health districts are conducting mass inoculations. Photo by Regina H. Boone

Kiara Gresham has been busy with the demands of her new small business, Cookie Jar Honeypot, and the need to ensure the education, health and well-being of her children during the pandemic and a virtual school year.

With summer getting closer and the new school year months away, Ms. Gresham is taking on a new task: Learning all she can about vaccinating her two older children, Queron, 14, and Kaeoni, 12, against COVID-19.

“It’s one of those things where it’s like, I know it has to be done, but it’s still kind of scary,” said Ms. Gresham, a single mother, as she sat in a booth among other vendors last Saturday at Ms. Girlee’s Kitchen in the East End.

The event was held by Richmond Public Schools to talk with parents about school reopening and the resources they need. The discussion with a reporter turned to COVID-19 and the approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine for children ages 12 through 15.

The Virginia Department of Health announced that health officials could begin vaccinations for youngsters last week.

Ms. Gresham, one of many parents pondering this new decision, was circumspect.

“I just want (my children) protected through anything,” she said.

The Richmond and Henrico health districts announced a number of walk-up vaccination events targeting at the younger population that started earlier this week. Others will follow, officials said.

“Vaccinating adolescents, along with the rest of Virginia’s eligible population, will help stop the spread of COVID-19 and make our communities safer,” Dr. Danny Avula, the state’s vaccine coordinator, said in a statement.

“Getting this safe, effective vaccine means that these adolescents won’t have to miss school, sporting events or other activities if they are exposed to someone with COVID-19, taking another step toward getting their lives back to normal.”

For Ms. Gresham, the choice of whether to vaccinate her children is motivated by her desire to ensure they can live their lives safely. She sees the decision as a family matter that involves all affected. Queron, she said, is the most interested in getting vaccinated.

Ms. Gresham said she plans to talk it over with their pediatrician, as she and her children continue their research.

“Their life is their life, so it’s a whole family decision,” Ms. Gresham said.

Some parents aren’t as assured.

Monique A., an outpatient scheduler with Virginia Commonwealth University who declined to give her last name, said she is wary of her 13-year old son, Korey, a student at John Rolfe Middle School, being inoculated.

She pointed to possible complica- tions from the vaccine, as well as cases of COVID-19 infections after people are fully vaccinated, as reasons for her reluctance.

Marquita Stewart, an employee with Ms. Girlee’s Kitchen and the mother of Khy, 16, has been eager to get her son vaccinated before he returns to Armstrong High School. She said the family plans to do a lot of traveling, largely to visit her finacé’s elderly mother. She said it has been a challenge to find vaccination providers with available doses.

“I want to make sure that we’re protected and covered before we go back into the traveling world,” Ms. Stewart said.

Ms. Gresham acknowledged that she’s worried about the temporary side effects that could come with vaccination, given some of the pre-existing health conditions of her younger son. However, she still sees the expansion of the vaccine to adolescents as an opportunity, and encourages any parent with similar concerns to become properly informed and prepared to ensure their child’s health.

“There’s a vaccine for chickenpox. So if you actually do your own research, it makes a difference,” Ms. Gresham said. “Just do your research and make sure you’re making the best decision for your child.”