As a pediatrician, I have been talking with families about vaccines my entire career. I believe strongly in the safety and the efficacy of the vaccines we recommend for our pediatric patients, and I view vaccination as one of the most important acts we can take to keep our children healthy.

I have never felt my role as a vaccine advocate to be more important than now. This is because I have never felt such a pressing need for our entire community, our entire country, to be vaccinated against one common infectious agent at the same time.

As a pediatrician, I have also felt somewhat fortunate that the patients I care for have not, as a whole, been hit as hard by COVID-19 as adults. However, this is not a universal truth. Children have been hospitalized. Children have died. More commonly, children have missed out on crucial schooling, they’ve experienced social isolation, become depressed and anxious, and developed other problems, the impact of which I believe we will not fully appreciate for some time.

Since this pandemic started, we have been waiting for a vaccine to be available, that “silver bullet” which will finally bring it all to an end. However, it is not quite that simple. As we have already seen, it is logistically complicated to vaccinate an entire population.

But it is more than logistics. It actually comes down to individual responsibility. Each and every one of us count. We are in this together. We each need to do our part as an individual and get vaccinated so that as a society we can reap the benefits. Although the exact number is unclear, it is estimated that 70 to 85% of the population will need to be immune to the virus that causes COVID-19 for the spread to stop. If only a small percentage of us accept the vaccine, we are not going to reach our goal of getting back to a normal way of life.

It starts with us adults. First are the healthcare workers. Then the elderly. Sooner or later, it will be your turn. I implore you to take advantage of the opportunity to receive the vaccine when your turn comes.

I recently had the privilege of helping to administer COVID-19 vaccines to the elderly and it was one of the most rewarding experiences in recent memory to see the excitement on so many faces; the joy at the thought of being reunited with grandchildren in the near future; and, most of all, the relief. The relief of no longer needing to live in fear and the relief that this may be coming to an end sooner rather than later. We hope. 

I know many are nervous to receive the vaccine. I understand that. But trust the science and the scientists. While it may seem to have occurred quickly, the research upon which the vaccines were built was years in the making. The clinical trials were performed rigorously and with adequate follow up to ensure safety. Millions of doses have already been given and the most common side effects are relatively mild and similar to what we see with other commonly administered vaccines. 

Every medical decision comes down to weighing the risks and the benefits. With the COVID-19 vaccine, think of the risks of taking the vaccine (arm soreness, fatigue, fever) compared to the risks of NOT taking the vaccine, such as contracting COVID-19, being hospitalized, requiring mechanical ventilation or dying.

Think of the benefits of taking the vaccine not only in terms of protecting yourself, but also in terms of protecting those you love, reuniting with those you love and helping to get your life and the lives of your children and grandchildren back to normal.

Whether it is to protect ourselves from becoming ill or so that our society, most especially our children, can begin to socialize and return to a more normal existence with in-person school and playdates with friends, it is import for us all to be vaccinated against COVID-19. It is the only way to get to the other side of this pandemic. It is the only way this is going to work.

Christine Hartford, M.D., FAAP, is a board-certified pediatrician and assistant professor of clinical medicine at New York Institute of Technology College of Osteopathic Medicine at Arkansas State University.

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