The Decision to Vaccinate Children: One Family’s Story

On June 18, 2022, as many as 19 million children aged 6 months to 5 years became eligible for the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. This is the youngest and last age group to receive access to COVID-19 vaccines.

Many parents of young children have been waiting for this green light for a long time, including Patricia and Lance Halvorson of Bottineau, N.D.

Patricia and Lance have three children. Lane is 8, Liam is 5 and Summer is 2. Both Patricia and Lance are vaccinated against COVID-19. Their decision to vaccinate is personal and comes down to two things: protecting the vulnerable and trusting the experts.

“I trust people who dedicate their life’s work to finding cures,” Patricia said.

No Strangers to Trusting Science & Medicine

Halvorson’s second child, Liam, was diagnosed with a rare immune disorder called Langerhans Cell Histiocytosis (LCH) when he turned one year old. LCH is a cancer-like disease when the body makes too many dendritic cells, a form of white blood cells. Dendritic cells are important for immune function. Dendritic cell build-up can cause tumors and disrupt normal tissue function.

“We put all of our trust, hope, prayers and tears into Liam’s wonderful oncology team and didn’t think twice about curing him with their workup of cancer-treating drugs,” said Patricia. “Our only concern was saving him by whatever means possible.”

Over the course of one year, Liam underwent 25 rounds of chemotherapy and took various medications.

“During this time, he had absolutely no immune system, and because he was diagnosed right at one year of age, he was also unable to receive his 12-month immunizations,” Patricia said. “Our family basically lived in a bubble for 18 months before most of the world even knew what living in a bubble was like.”

Shortly after his treatment period, the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Not only were the Halvorsons concerned about the effects of COVID-19 on Liam, given his condition, but they had just had their third child, Summer. Early in the pandemic, scientists didn’t understand the full effects of COVID-19 on children, nonetheless on those who were immunocompromised or newborns.

“Back to our little bubble we went,” said Patricia.

The Decision to Vaccinate

While Liam is now caught up on his routine immunizations, during his treatment period, he relied on others to be vaccinated to keep diseases at bay since he himself was unable to be vaccinated.

So, when it came to vaccinating their family against COVID-19, Patricia and Lance understood that their decision would impact more than just themselves.

“We [got vaccinated] for ourselves, our children, and because we knew we would be doing [Liam’s] medical follow-up visits at Roger Maris Cancer Center, which is full of immunosuppressed patients,” said Patricia. “My dad also has Parkinson’s disease, so we did it for him, too.”

Their eldest children, Lane and Liam, have both been vaccinated against COVID-19. Their daughter Summer just became eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine, and they plan to vaccinate her, too.

Before vaccinating their children, Patricia and Lance weighed the risks and benefits against the burden of disease. While COVID-19 typically causes less severe disease among children than adults, kids are still at risk. More than 13.5 million kids in the U.S. have tested positive for the coronavirus; however, this is likely an undercount. Among states reporting, 40,000 children have been hospitalized and 1,000 have died nationally.

Compared to other vaccine-preventable diseases among kids, deaths from COVID-19 rank highest. Kids can also experience long COVID.

Data indicates that COVID-19 vaccination is safe and effective for children, even among the youngest ones.

“Our age-eligible children are vaccinated to hopefully lead a healthful life without worrying about troublesome diseases. We stick to our parental standards of doing what we think is best for our children, and we strongly believe in vaccination,” said Patricia. “Our children are active in sports and school events, so it gives us relief knowing we have done everything we believe to be good for their well-being.”

For the Halvorsons, knowing about the vaccine development process, the safety monitoring systems in place, and that recommendations are coming from trusted experts gave them confidence in vaccinating their children against COVID-19.

“We know what goes into trial studies and the process of getting vaccinations approved, so we will be more than willing to protect our children from COVID, just as we do with the flu shot,” said Patricia. “Once all of our children are vaccinated against COVID-19, we will feel good about our decisions to protect our children against any potentially serious, preventable health problems.”