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6-Year-Olds on Stilts and Other Perspectives from South Carolina Moms on Vaxing Adolescents

'Vax and Relax' could be the motto for a lot of South Carolina parents now that adolescents can receive the vaccine. But not for all of them.
'Vax and Relax' could be the motto for a lot of South Carolina parents now that adolescents can receive the vaccine. But not for all of them.

Some parents, like Amy Hayes of Rock Hill and Lauren Williams-Noesner of Columbia, have children who are still too young to get vaccinated against COVID, even with the FDA and CDC giving the greenlight to vaccinate kids as young as 12.

But they so wish that they could vaccinate their sons that Hayes is half-tempted to outfit her 6-year-old with stilts and a trench coat and sneak him through the process, while Noesner is waiting to hear if her 5-year-old twins will be accepted into the Moderna trials for children.

For parents of children who are of age for the latest round of vaccine approvals, like Lori Keener of Columbia and Emily Athens of Lexington, getting their (eager) adolescent children to a vaccination event can’t happen fast enough. Both say that getting their kids vaccinated is the morally responsible thing to do, not just for them, but for the rest of society.

On the other side of the situation are moms like Toni Eargle of Lexington, who, like her husband, is adamantly against the vaccine, even for adults. Eargle has a 15-year-old son who does not want to be vaccinated; although while she thinks of the vaccines as “an experiment” rather than an inoculation program, Eargle does say she would hear her son out if he did tell her he wanted a vaccine.

He would just have to present her with a really compelling, really well-researched argument.

Such is the dynamic in play as adolescents are now cleared to receive the Pfizer vaccine. There is little to no gray area – parents are either eager to vaccinate their kids or want nothing to do with it.

For state health officials, it’s the backdrop for their latest efforts to try to convince South Carolinians why it’s important to vax up – especially now that Gov. Henry McMaster has ordered schools to allow parents to decide whether they want their children to wear masks to class, a move that makes moms like Athens incredibly furious and moms like Noesner incredibly apprehensive.

State Director of Health Dr. Brannon Traxler answers vaccine skeptics by saying that the vaccines are overwhelmingly safe and effective – with effectiveness rates in the 95 percent range, they rival the best of long-established vaccines against diseases like measles, she says.

Dr. Traxler also says that as older generations are now getting vaccinated more reguarly, the demographics of who is getting and spreading SARS-CoV-2 are skewing younger and younger. With more cases showing up in the 15-25 age ranges, she says, it’s important to get adolescents vaccinated and stay ahead of the disease. She says that while young adults and teens have so far fared generally well in the pandemic, new mutations and variants could come along, and who knows what effect they will have on young people.

For Dr. Martha Edwards. A pediatrician in Rock Hill, it’s important for parents to have real conversations with their kids about getting a vaccine. Dr. Edwards is a proponent of vaccinations all around and says parents should make kids feel comfortable about the idea of getting a COVID vaccine.

Like other pro-vaccine parents, Dr. Edwards says vaccinating adolescents is the right thing to do. But she says it’s also the smart thing – that we are obviously not getting out of this pandemic without reaching herd immunity, and that we’re not likely to reach herd immunity without vaccinating kids.

Dr. Traxler says that with CDC clearance to vaccinate adolescents, South Carolina should be ready to roll up young sleeves in a matter of days.

Scott Morgan is the Upstate multimedia reporter for South Carolina Public Radio, based in Rock Hill. He cut his teeth as a newspaper reporter and editor in New Jersey before finding a home in public radio in Texas. Scott joined South Carolina Public Radio in March of 2019. His work has appeared in numerous national and regional publications as well as on NPR and MSNBC. He's won numerous state, regional, and national awards for his work including a national Edward R. Murrow.