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On Call: Blink, and It's Eighteen Months

Thu, 11/11/2021 - 09:34
Children 5 to 11 receive a smaller dose of Pfizer's Covid-19 vaccine.
Carissa Katz

If I shut my eyes and cast my memory back, I'm standing in my shower. I'm scrubbing every inch of my skin with a bar of soap, including my eyelids and ears. I can taste the soap as it crosses my lips. I can remember the underscore of terror in the early days of the pandemic, wondering if my working in an I.C.U. and taking care of some of the first patients with Covid-19 in our region was going to endanger my family.

Was I going to bring the virus home? 

Would my desire to help others end up hurting my children?

Blink and then close my eyes again, and I'm sitting in my oldest daughter's room, holding her as she sobs late at night. It's six months into the Covid-19 pandemic, and she wants to know that it will be over soon. She wants to visit her grandparents and cousins, and to believe in a world in which the news isn't filled with reports of the dead and the dying. A vaccine is just around the corner, and the first taste of hope is in the air, but I can't lie to her. I can't tell her everything will be fine.

Not yet.

I open my eyes. It's 18 months later, it's now, and I can hardly believe that I am watching a friend and colleague deftly vaccinate all four of my children against Covid-19. I've spent months reading about the pediatric trials of the mRNA vaccines against Covid-19, and it still seems surreal.

I know, for example, that no serious adverse events were reported in the Pfizer trial of children ages 5 to 11. I know as well that the most likely side effects are a sore arm, maybe some swelling at the site of injection, muscle aches, fatigue, mild fever, and other similar effects to those seen in adults. I know that the vaccine underwent extraordinary testing and safety review, and that the dose is a third of the adult dose.

I know that the trials showed almost 91 percent effectiveness in preventing Covid-19 in children 5 to 11, that the vaccine was overwhelming approved by the Centers for Disease Control's Advisory Committee for Immunization Practices and the Food and Drug Administration.

But try as I might, every time I blink, it's not the numbers that I'm seeing. I'm tasting soap, and I'm hearing my daughter cry, and I'm feeling overwhelmed. Slowly, however, those sensations fade away. 

Instead, I'm remembering sitting in my car three days ago, explaining the Covid-19 vaccine to my children and telling them they would be able to get it. I'm answering their questions, and I'm allaying the general fears my 6-year-old always has about needles and shots.

I explain that I believe in the safety of the pediatric Covid-19 vaccine that Pfizer has developed. I explain that mRNA technology for vaccine delivery, while new, is extremely well-studied and cannot change your DNA.

Finally, I explain that, as with all medical interventions, there is an extremely low chance of allergic reaction to vaccine components but that they have never had any trouble with any of their previous vaccines, and I do not believe it will happen now. But, to be safe, we will sit at their pediatrician's office for 15 minutes to be observed.

Then, because they are extraordinary, as all children are, they smile and nod. Because they are ready for this to be over and done. Because they understand that we have placed our faith in the science. Because they, like most children, are incredibly brave, they agree that they want to do this thing, to stand in line for an hour just to get a needle jammed in their arms.

So that they can be safe. So that they can help keep their friends and neighbors safe, their immunocompromised teachers and classmates with serious asthma or heart conditions, their grandparents and strangers on the street and everyone in between.

This is, I think, the memory I will choose to carry with me out of this pandemic.

Joshua Potter, D.O., a physician with Stony Brook Southampton Hospital's Meeting House Lane Medical Practice, oversees the practice's Shelter Island office. He specializes in family and neuromusculoskeletal medicine. Opinions expressed in this column are his personal and professional views and not necessarily those of his employer.

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