© 2024 South Carolina Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

The (vaccine) trials and tribulations of an Upstate mom and two South Carolina pediatricians

Vaccines for children ages 5 to 11 could be available before Thanksgiving. While a Kaiser Family Foundation survey suggests that only a third of parents will vaccinate kids that young, advocates for children's health say it's not just about the kids.
Vaccines for children ages 5 to 11 could be available before Thanksgiving. While a Kaiser Family Foundation survey suggests that only a third of parents will rush to vaccinate kids that young, advocates for children's health say it's not just about the kids.

It’s ironic for Dr. Deborah Greenhouse that adults bicker about whether children should wear masks in schools. The outspoken Columbia-based pediatrician says that for all the complaints and all the problems kids bring into her practice, not one patient has ever complained bout having to wear a mask.

“This is purely a made-up adult problem,” she says.

Perhaps. But whether that’s true or not, the real-world effects of COVID-19 on South Carolina’s children are a lot less debatable. The state Department of Health and Environmental Control’s continuously updated stats on who’s getting COVID now show that kids younger than 12 and adults older than 70 account for about the same number of cases (just north of 65,000) since the pandemic began.

Children, Dr. Greenhouse, admits, are doing an awful lot better dealing with the virus once they get it. Six children younger than 10 years old have died from COVID, according to DHEC, whereas almost 7,600 South Carolinians older than 70 have died from it.

Meanwhile, DHEC has reported fewer than 300 hospitalizations among children 10 years old and younger and more than 12,000 hospitalizations for people over age 70.

The problem for Dr. Greenhouse is that “kids are not supposed to die,” and a lot more of them have landed in the hospital since COVID-s Delta variant ignited over the past few months.

The other problem for her is that kids with COVID can spread it to people like grandparents or older adults.

“Saw a little boy for cough, sore throat today,” Dr. Greenhouse wrote on Twitter on Sept. 30. “#Covid19 Positive. Grandfather with serious health problems is his primary caretaker. I tried several times to convince him to get vaccinated. I failed. I am terrified.”

She’s far from alone. Social media sites like Twitter are alight with frustrated pediatricians urging masks for kids and, when available, vaccinations.

In Rock Hill, pediatrician Dr. Martha Edwards says that masks “will kill fewer of [kids’] caretakers. For a child to come home and realize that they were the one who gave it to their grandmother or their mom who has breast cancer, that’s pretty devastating.”

Both these pediatricians wish more parents and caretakers understood the ripple effects of kids contracing COVID. Both doctors urge vaccinations for children as young as 5 years old – something drug manufacturer Pfizer is petitioning the FDA to begin offering as soon as possible, and which could happen by November, according to most national reporting.

One parent who’s slightly ahead of the curve is Lynley Lapp, a Greenville mother of three – two of whom, at ages 9 and 6, have gone through clinical trials aimed at making child vaccinations happen.

Because of her contract with the trial operator, Lapp cannot say which company’s drug her children tested for. She also does not know yet whether her two oldest children received a vaccine or a placebo, though she suspects vaccine because the kids both walked away from injection No. 2 with sore arms and celebrated with “an impromptu” nap, which she says is not their normal thing.

She’ll find out in due time what the kids received, but “real vaccine or placebo” is not really the point for Lapp. The real point, she says, is that kids need protection from COVID, both for themselves and for the safety of others.

Lapp’s youngest child is 2 years old – still too young to get a vaccine. Even if her oldest two are as covered as she and her husband, everyone in the house is still masking and staying home most of the time to protect the youngest member of the family. Her medical daredevils are enrolled in a private school that has a mask mandate in place.

While she says the vaccine trials were rather unremarkable (“like a two-hour doctor visit”), the implications of being part of what she sees as the solution to the seemingly endless pandemic are not lost on her.

Moreover, Lapp says her children, though still both in single digits, understand the importance of mask-wearing and the gravity of being part of a clinical vaccine trial. She is a health coach and her husband is a research physician, which she says has inured the kids to dad running out to tend to sick children and given them a sense of the importance of “doing the right thing,” even if not everyone is doing it.

Such an attitude could help fend off a rise in anxiety that pediatricians like Dr. Edwards says she’s seeing in more of her patients these days. Interestingly, she says, it’s not that the kids are worried about the pandemic itself (nor about wearing masks, actually), they mostly miss being in the structured environment school affords them.

That could be the one thing pediatricians, moms, politicians, and armchair editorialists actually agree on – that kids do better in school classrooms than they do trying to navigate coursework online every time a COVID flare-up sends whole grades home.

The disagreement, of course, is more about what they should wear once they get there. Pediatricians like Dr. Greenhouse find facemasks very fashionable for the young student.

Listen above to the audio story from South Carolina Public Radio.  

Correction: An earlier version of this story stated that Lynley Lapp's children were being homeschooled. They are in a private school.

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.