Children aged 12 and up have been able to get a COVID-19 vaccine in the U.S. since May, when the Food and Drug Administration issued an emergency use authorization, or EUA, that lowered the age threshold for the Pfizer shot. But the adolescent vaccination rate still lags behind the adult one. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as of mid-October, just 55.5 percent of children aged 12 to 15 and 62.8 percent of those aged 16 to 17 have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, while 78.4 percent of adults have gotten the jab.
As we await the likely EUA for Pfizer’s pediatric dose for children aged 5 to 11, it’s worth asking why some parents are choosing not to vaccinate their adolescents, even as others are lying to health care providers to get their kids an early dose. For Cyndi, a 39-year-old mother who lives in Columbia County, Georgia, it’s an emotional decision, not a logical one. Cyndi—who requested a pseudonym to avoid potential backlash at work—and her husband have three kids, aged 13, 15, and 19. Neither Cyndi nor her children have gotten a COVID-19 vaccine. She talked to me about her thinking in a conversation that has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
When I first heard about the COVID vaccine, I thought it was a little bit worrisome. I mean, it was a good thing—I’m not an anti-vaxxer. My kids take the flu shot, they have all their other vaccinations. But it was a little bit concerning to me because the research process was just so fast. And then, when it opened the doors to the kids, I was just really leery about it, because what’s it going to be like in 10 years?
When the vaccines first came out, we had really decided that we weren’t going to get them. We were going to wait it out, because everybody was quarantining anyway and the kids really weren’t in school at that point—I didn’t feel like the kids were really at risk. There are certainly kids that are at a higher risk, but for my children, who are thankfully healthy, even catching COVID would probably be OK. I just felt like if we get them the vaccine—there’s just so many unknowns about it, and so we didn’t really even consider it.
But then this past summer, my 15-year-old approached me. She had anxiety about COVID still going on, and everybody was getting really relaxed about masks. She had expressed that she definitely still wanted to wear her mask, and she had expressed that she wanted to get the vaccine.
So I started considering it, and then when this delta variant hit, I noticed that I kind of flip-flopped. I’ll go back and forth where I’ll be like, “No, we don’t need it,” and then something will happen and I’ll be like, “Yeah, we’re definitely going to go get it”—because the risk versus reward has changed. Now, I’ve known so many people who have gotten the vaccine and they’ve gotten COVID anyway. Multiple people have gotten sick after they’ve gotten the shot. To be fair, it hasn’t been bad sick. So I do feel like the vaccine has helped them. But once again, I don’t feel like the kids are really, overall, getting that sick to begin with.
I’m not saying that I won’t ever get them vaccinated. We might go next weekend. I’m just super hesitant because I wish that there was just a little more time in between the research and the distribution. I did read an article about how scientists had been researching these kinds of vaccines for a long time, which is why they produced it as quickly as they did. But when it’s your kids, it’s easy not to be logical. It’s an emotional decision.
Every time that I’ve really felt comfortable in saying “Yeah, let’s definitely do this,” I’d look in our area where, even if you had gotten the vaccine, everybody still had to wear the masks. So there was really not even a reward for getting the vaccine. What makes me concerned is wondering: What if 10 years from now there’s some kind of weird side effect? I think [the side effect I’ve heard of] was just really Johnson & Johnson, when they were having the blood clots and stuff like that, and from what I gather, it was a tiny percentage. Other than that? I haven’t even heard of any. Like I said, it’s not logical. I totally know that.
Recently, I took my oldest, the 19-year-old, to a doctor’s appointment, and I inquired about where we could get the vaccine. I don’t know if maybe they had run out, but they pretty much just referred us—“You could go to Walmart and get the vaccine.” Really, if they had been like, “Yeah, come right down in here,” me and my oldest probably would’ve got it that day. To be honest with you, I’d have no problems getting it for myself. I’m just busy, and it’s not worth me having to go out of my way to get it. If they showed up [at my work] with the COVID shot, I would take it for myself. So this whole conversation, it has nothing to do with being against the COVID shot. I’m just leery with the COVID shot with my children.
I do totally acknowledge that we have lost a lot of people to COVID, which is why I do think that high-risk people and older people definitely need the vaccine. But I just don’t want our kids to have that fear-based decision-making, running and getting it. Yes, it’s getting rid of the immediate fear, but what’s the potential long term? Like I said, for me, it is totally worth it. But for the kids? I just don’t know.
My husband got it. He’s military; he had to get the vaccine because of the mandate. He just recently got the second one not that long ago, and he had zero of the side effects that a lot of people experience.
But we’re not outgoing people—we’re definitely grocery-store-and-home type people. I do work at a school. So when I go to work, we bring our masks daily, me and the kids, and we have to wear masks right now. When we go out, we always wear masks, and we have been doing a lot of ordering in or pick up. I think we have actually gone out to eat one time in the past year. That has just become normal to us? Even though it had opened back up in Georgia, it was just still so bad around here that that’s just where we were more comfortable. It has just really become our new normal.
I don’t want to come across like I’m some kind of anti-vaxxer. I know that I’m talking out of both sides of my mouth because I do trust doctors and I do follow doctors’ recommendations. But like I said, when it’s your child, it’s hard as a parent knowing that no strides against childhood cancers are really getting made, and then this is just so quick, like within a year. It just seems like it’s one more thing. When the vaccine first came out, I thought, “Oh, this is just one shot.” Then it dawned on me, no, this is not going to be one shot. This is going to be like a flu shot, it’s going to be every year. I have a feeling that’s what it’s going to end up being.
In my generation as a parent, you’ve had to listen to people talk about how vaccines cause autism, which is not true. You’ve always heard this bad feeling from a small community, but you can’t help—especially as a parent of somebody with autism—you can’t help but maybe have that little seed of doubt. You know it’s total bullcrap, you know that it is. But anytime something new is introduced to your child, you do have a worry.
Do I feel like it’s going to end up being a necessary thing? Yeah, eventually, because unfortunately it doesn’t look like COVID’s going anywhere. That’s why I emphasized we haven’t gotten it “yet.”
I hear people who went and got it for their kids, first thing, and I totally understand why they went and did it. In their mind, they’re protecting their child, and they are. And then I understand when parents say they’re not going to do it at all ever, because they’re protecting their child, and in their mind, they are. And I’m just kind of standing in the middle shrugging my shoulders going “I’ll see.”
I have family that is in the medical field, and they’re adamant, they’re like, “You really need to go get vaccinated. You need to go get them vaccinated.” And I’m like, “Yeah, definitely, I just need to set up the appointment.” And then it’s just … feet get dragged, work happens, school happens, and then my mindset’s like, “Well maybe they don’t need it.”
I don’t necessarily agree with a mandate … I do believe in freewill. I do think that these are our bodies and we should have every say on what we get to do with it, you know what I mean? But I do agree that there should be some kind of repercussion. If they came to me at work and they said, “OK, we want everybody to get the shot, if you don’t get the shot, you have to wear a mask at all times. If we see you take that mask off, you’re going to get wrote up and then you could get fired.” That would be a consequence, and then I would have to make a decision. I respect that. But I don’t agree with forcing people and strong-arming people into doing stuff like that.
I’ve discussed it with my friends. The far majority of my friends, their teenagers have gotten the shot. But they’ve also had COVID, so I don’t know if that was more so the motivation … my kids probably have never even brought it up with their friends. It is kind of, to each their own, which is maybe why I don’t feel so pressured, why I don’t feel so judged. Maybe if it was a bigger community, we would feel that way. But around here, if people went and got it, OK, that’s great. But if you didn’t, it was just kind of like oh, OK.
I do think that we’ll end up getting the vaccine. I do, I really do. And unfortunately, because we procrastinate so much, it probably won’t even be like, “Oh, I made us an appointment” or anything. We’ll probably be walking through Walmart, picking up dog food, and I’ll be like, “Hey can y’all give us the shot real quick?”
It’ll be the last-minute decision with no thought, because that’s how I do stuff. I wing it, and it’ll be something that I was so worried about for so long, and then I did it last minute with no thought. And that probably is going to be how it comes to be.