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Vaccines for little kids are finally here. Why aren’t we more excited?

After more than two years of COVID, who has the capacity for glee?

Evariste Pestourie brought his own syringe with him to receive his COVID-19 vaccine at the Newton Early Childhood Program.Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff

It should’ve been the parental equivalent of the Red Sox finally winning the 2004 World Series: About damn time! COVID-19 vaccines are finally approved for kids under 5. We can all exhale now, right?

And yet there’s a sense of weary (and wary) resignation now that the moment is finally here, especially as many people have already shifted back to life as normal. After a two-plus-year grind, our emotions have deadened and our guards are up.

“I’m relieved. But, at this point, I’m also so fatigued,” says Belmont mom Jennifer Salucci.

“There doesn’t feel like enough data or reason to take a ‘risk’ yet,” one Dedham parent told me, requesting anonymity for fear of blowback. “My gut says hold off.”


This parent is not alone: A survey in April by the Kaiser Family Foundation found only about one in five planned to vaccinate their child as soon as the vaccine became available. And even those who do plan to vaccinate feel a sense of ambivalence.

“I am worried about the side effects, relieved, and excited in that order. I know [my kids] have had other vaccinations but still worried about possible longer-term effects,” says Stoneham dad Mike Bekins.

“It won’t change much since we have already been out and about since the adult vaccines were available, but we’re still thrilled for the peace of mind for our 1-year-old,” says Michael Ratty, a South End father whose household has already dealt with COVID.

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“When my husband was vaccinated, he was sick for three days. And with little kids, having this not have been a very widely used vaccine yet because it’s new, we don’t know what the side effects are going to be,” says Millbury’s Jennifer Earle, who is pleased about the vaccine news but worried, too.

“The idea that I might willingly give [my kids] something that makes them down for the count for another couple of days sounds like torture. That being said, I have been looking forward for this vaccine to be ready for my kids for years,” she says.


After all this, ambivalence? Needham’s Caroline Husick, a mom of young children and a public health researcher, sees issues with the messaging. Vaccines are sometimes presented as a game-changing silver bullet. It’s not as simple as that, and maybe not as gratifying, either.

“It’s really tricky, because there’s a lot of nuance — it’s much easier to understand a simple message that, if you get this vaccine, then you are safe. Or if you wear a mask, then it will protect you. The reality is that each layer of protection is going to have an added benefit. And that added benefit may not be to you as an individual,” she says. “You sort of have to wrap your mind around these complexities where you will not see the benefit to you as an individual immediately, and that’s really hard to do.”

For so long, it felt like a vaccine for this age group would be a finish line. But it’s not: It’s simply one more tool in the toolbox, which is a lot less dramatic.

“It feels like a turning point, but not the finish line,” Husick says. For her, the true endpoint will come when “humans [are] in control rather than the virus.”

And, as we’ve seen, that could take a while. The waiting game continues.


COVID-burnout aside, there are some bright spots. People who are afraid of side effects can take heart in knowing that they’re relatively rare.

“There were no cases of myocarditis among children under 5 and no sign of any new or different types of side effects in children under 5,” says Scott Paparello, DO, Chief of Infectious Diseases at Emerson Hospital in Concord. Minor side effects are similar to those seen in adults, like body aches or headaches.

And, most of all, he says that the benefits of vaccinating outweigh any risk.

“There is mounting data on the long-term effects of COVID infection even among young individuals. COVID infection can lead to severe acute illness; a severe inflammatory syndrome; and prolonged issues with fatigue, cognition, headaches, body pain, and mood. The scientific evidence certainly points to the vaccines as safer than getting COVID-19,” he says.

Now, if only we could get really excited about it.

Kara Baskin can be reached at kara.baskin@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @kcbaskin.