Kid Friendly: Kids Talk Vaccines

Children get scared. When children get scared, sometimes they cry. Sometimes they whimper. Sometimes they rage and kick cars to destroy anything their feet can reach.

Adults get scared. When adults get scared, sometimes they cry. Sometimes they rage. Sometime they write. Sometimes they make videos for social media. Sometimes they present their own realities at Board of Education meetings to try to change a policy that scares them.

Such a speech happened on Sept. 13 in Beacon, where the first topic of discussion was how the reopening was going. (The reopening is going well, the deputy superintendent reported.)

Before that report, during the public comment portion of the meeting, a woman came forth to speak on why she felt that mandatory testing of unvaccinated staff should not be. She proceeded to share misinformation that included words such as “ethylene oxide” and “shedding,” common terms used by anti-vaxxers. Another person who offered his views is a flagrant spreader of misinformation on social media.

The problem with adults who are scared is that they spread ideas that can impact others, including children, who haven’t yet learned the intricacies of the scientific method (remember that — start with a hypothesis and gather evidence for and against, while avoiding confirmation bias?), and harm a community’s spirit and safety.

Emmett Bram

Emmett Bram, 9, with a balloon he sees as a coronavirus: “I’m glad they’re coming out with vaccines for kids because I do not like the pandemic and I wish it was over.”

Brandon Lillard and I (we do a podcast together called Wait, What is That?) have been talking to children about their fears. Their huge little minds turn things over and over to find the right answer, and we want to explore how they are comprehending their new choice to be vaccinated.

I first recorded a chat with my 9-year-old son. Take a read of this circular conversation, and see if you can spot where the logic turned from personal fear to outward concern and a flipped recommendation. For context, my son and I both had COVID-19 at the same time in December 2020. I was vaccinated in April.

Mom: “Do you remember the first questions you asked me about the vaccination?”
Son: “I don’t want to take it.”
Mom: “Why not?”
Son: “I don’t want the side effects.”
Mom: “What are the side effects?”
Son: “You know what the side effects are!”
Mom: “Well, I know what they are, but what do you think they are?”
Son: “Well, they are headaches, drowsiness. Feeling down … I just don’t want it.”
Mom: “Feeling down?”
Son: “Yeah. I’m also scared of needles.”
Mom: “OK. What do you think about the fact that I get to wait on you and make you as cozy as possible? Bringing you food.”
Son: “Did the needle hurt? Is it like the flu?”
Mom: “To be honest, I barely felt the needle.”
Son: “You’re just saying that ’cause you’re older.”
Mom: “No, I’m serious. And you’ve had the flu shot. I’ve actually never had the flu shot.”
Son: “The flu shot feels like a needle. It’s going to feel the same. Get the flu shot, and tell me if it feels the same, because then I’ll know.”
Mom: “I’ll get the flu shot for you.”
Son (chuckling): “Well, you would also be protected!”
Mom: “Well, I didn’t get the flu shot because I thought I didn’t need it. I thought my own antibodies were, like, better.”
Son: “No. You need it.”
Mom: “I do?”
Son: “I did not get the vaccination and I got the flu.”
Mom: “And you had the flu for like two weeks, right?”
Son: “Yeah. That was bad. I hated that thing.”
Mom: “And then your friend did not get the flu, and he did get the vaccination.”

It should be noted that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that the COVID-19 vaccination can reduce how badly COVID-19 infects you if there is a breakthrough infection. Less than one-tenth of 1 percent of the state’s fully vaccinated people had, as of Sept. 20, been hospitalized with a breakthrough infection, according to state data.

Pandemics present us with a constant unknown. While we are scared, we must continue to make wise decisions for ourselves and our children. Adults have the advantage of experience and are in positions of power. Use that power wisely, and keep fear in check.

Emmett Bram, 9, with a balloon he sees as a coronavirus: “I’m glad they’re coming out with vaccines for kids because I do not like the pandemic and I wish it was over.”

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