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Parents cheer news that Pfizer vaccine is safe for kids, but not everybody is convinced

"I was very concerned that my son would not be able to get vaccinated," a relieved Massachusetts mom said.
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Alfredo Torres, a microbiology and immunology professor from Texas, had a message Wednesday for parents who might be reluctant to get their children vaccinated against Covid-19: Go for it.

Not only was Torres a volunteer for a Pfizer vaccine clinical trial; so was his 14-year-old son.

"Afterward his arm was a little sore, he was a little tired, which is what happens to most people after getting the shot," Torres said. "But besides that, he was perfectly fine. So my message to parents who might be concerned is very simple: We need to vaccinate as many people as possible to end this pandemic, and that means vaccinating children, as well."

"This vaccine is safe for children," said Torres, who teaches at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston.

Pfizer said Wednesday that its Covid-19 vaccine is safe and 100 percent effective in preventing the illness in teenagers ages 12 to 15.

"After I volunteered, he immediately said he wanted to volunteer, as well," Torres said of his son. "I am very proud."

Torres is far from the only parent who is cheering Pfizer's announcement. Some of the loudest applause came from parents with high-risk children who have already been vaccinated.

Paige Wallis of Malden, Massachusetts, was relieved after her autistic 16-year-old daughter, Sylvie, got her first Pfizer shot last week.

"She just turned 16 earlier this month and qualified for being high-risk — a rare genetic disorder with congenital effects and intellectual disability," Wallis said.

IMAGE: Paige Wallis with her family
Paige Wallis with her family.Courtesy of Paige Wallis

Wallis, 44, said she had no qualms, because her family is pro-vaccines. Her father and her sister are polio survivors. But she said she made a point of reading the opposing views, as well, before deciding to vaccinate Sylvie.

"I was not concerned, as all of our reputable, science-based sources affirmed its overall safety and effectiveness," she said. "She's only had the first vax so far and expressed no particular discomfort or signs of illness."

Wallis said that since the start of the pandemic, she has insisted on remote schooling for Sylvie, as well as for her 8-year-old son, Julian.

"Since Sylvie has her first shot and we know that's pretty effective already, we've decided to send him in" full time, Wallis said. "We'll put her in full [time] after her second shot. The new report gives me hope that my almost 9-year-old will be able to get his vax soon, as well."

Kelley Paradis of Wrentham, Massachusetts, said she, too, was overjoyed by the positive news from Pfizer.

"My 14-year-old son has not registered to get vaccinated yet," said Paradis, 43. "I only just heard this morning that they now have found the Pfizer vaccine safe for his age bracket.

"I was very concerned that my son would not be able to get vaccinated, because I am one of the people who truly fears and respects the dangers of Covid," Paradis added. "Everyone else in the family would have been eligible within the coming months except for him, and that had me worried."

Paradis said her 18-year-old daughter, Madeleine, works at a nursing home and was vaccinated in January.

"What a relief that was for our family. Despite their use of extensive PPE, we were worried about her risk of exposure every day," Paradis said, referring to personal protective equipment.

Thirty-five percent of the 1,001 parents of public school students (kindergarten through 12th grade) who took part in a National Parents Union Survey in January said they wanted their children to be vaccinated immediately, while 25 percent checked "Yes, but not right away," and 22 percent said they adamantly opposed vaccinating their children against Covid-19.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has said children as young as first-graders might be able to get vaccinated by the start of the next school year in September. But a lot of American parents aren't eager to get their children vaccinated — or themselves, for that matter.

"I feel like I would like to see some more studies on that," Angelina Vicknair, a Louisiana mother of 6- and 9-year-old sons, said before the Pfizer announcement at a roundtable discussion about Covid-19 vaccinations for children sponsored by NBC affiliate WDSU of New Orleans. "I personally haven't gotten the vaccine yet, so for me I'd rather wait."

Seleigh Taylor, a school administrator with daughters ages 4 and 9, said during the same discussion that she has been vaccinated but is in no hurry get her girls vaccinated.

"They've had some adverse reactions to their vaccinations before, so we kind of do an alternative vaccination schedule already," Taylor said. "With that and their personal health, I felt that we wait a little while, because we usually take it slow when it comes to vaccinations."

A recent survey of 18,000 mothers and pregnant women across 16 countries conducted by researchers from Harvard's T.H. Chan School of Public Health found that a strong majority would be willing to get their children vaccinated. But moms in the U.S., Russia and Australia were the most reluctant to do so.

"This phenomenon in the U.S. and Russia could be due to COVID-19 denial," the researchers speculated.

Who are the holdout parents? If the results of a recent Kaiser Family Foundation survey are any indication, they're most likely to be Republicans or from rural areas or both.

Nevertheless, after a year of stay-at-home schooling and other pandemic restrictions, legions of parents and students don't want to wait any longer.

Dr. Sunanda Gaur, director of the Clinical Research Center at the Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in New Jersey, said that after word got out that the center would begin testing Pfizer's and Johnson & Johnson's vaccines in children, it began getting calls from parents who wanted to enroll their children in the clinical trials.

"The word of mouth that we will be doing studies has gotten out," Gaur told NJ Spotlight News. "We have been actually hearing from parents that they're really interested, in particular teenagers, to put them in studies. We were quite surprised."