Some wariness, but most teens, families embrace COVID shots

  • Lydia Rosado talks about her feelings around getting her children the COVID vaccine. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Lydia Rosado talks about her feelings around getting her children the COVID vaccine. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • From left, Camille Smith, 13, Luke Smith, Claire Smith, 12, Weyland Smith, 9, and Bonnie Smith visit Northampton from Connecticut and talk about their views on the COVID vaccine for teens. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Rowen Hashim,11, with her mother, Jill Johnson, step father, Tim Sossa and baby brother, Nathaniel Sossa and talk about their feelings about the COVID vaccine for teens. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Jorge, Cuevas, 10, left, and Ari Cuevas, 15, right, visit Northampton with their older brother Gil Cuevas, 20, a UMass student, and talk about their views on the COVID vaccine for teens. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Rowen Hashim,11, with her mother, Jill Johnson, step father, Tim Sossa and baby brother, Nathaniel Sossa and talk about their feelings about the COVID vaccine for teens. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Left, Jorge, Cuevas and 10, and right, Ari Cuevas,15, visit Northampton with their older brother Gil Cuevas,20, a UMass student, and talk about their feelings about the COVID vaccine for teens. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Rowen Hashim,11, with her mother, Jill Johnson, step father, Tim Sossa and baby brother, Nathaniel Sossa and talk about their feelings about the COVID vaccine for teens. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Published: 6/27/2021 6:54:00 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Even as the state reaches its self-imposed goal of vaccinating 4.1 million adults against the coronavirus, a local pediatrician is concerned about what he sees as a lag in inoculations rates among the youth population.

Nearly 70% of adults in Massachusetts are vaccinated, but Dr. David Gottsegen, who practices in South Hadley and Holyoke, said he is seeing a drop-off in vaccination rates, particularly among the 12-to-17 age range — what he described as a hurdle in overcoming the pandemic. Gottsegen estimates that about a third of his eligible patients are holding out on the vaccine.

“People are getting information from so many sources, and there is an understandable anxiety about anything new,” Gottsegen said. “It’s complicated. I can’t blame patients for being skeptical and hesitant.”

The U.S. Center for Disease and Control “recommends everyone 12 years and older should get a vaccination to help protect against COVID-19, according to the agency’s website.

“I listen, I fall behind,” Gottsegen said, when having conversations with parents about their vaccination concerns. “I try to listen to everyone’s concerns and acknowledge it. Having children myself, I’m protective of our kids.”

Still, he contends that while it may be true that children do not generally get as severely sick with the coronavirus as adults typically do, they could deal with its long-term adverse effects. They could also transmit the virus to vulnerable populations, such as the elderly or those with immunosuppression issues.

“It’s why we push for vaccines — to protect others,” Gottsegen said.

Concerns

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has been authorized for ages 12 and older. According to the COVID-19 vaccination data tracker on the CDC website, as of June 24, 62% of adolescents over 12 had received one dose in the nation, and 53% had received two. In comparison, for the population over the age of 65, 87% have received one dose, and 77% have received two.

For parents who express concern about the vaccine, and its potential side effects, Gottsegen said, the health effects of the coronavirus can be much more detrimental — and last longer. He said adolescents “developed complications quickly (with the COVID vaccine), and the vast, vast majority abate quickly — within a couple days to weeks maximum. They don’t develop lifelong problems after the vaccine. They might after the COVID-19 disease, but not the vaccines.”

On Wednesday and Thursday, a Gazette reporter went into downtown Northampton to hear from parents and adolescents about their thoughts, concerns and experiences with the coronavirus vaccine.

Most parents said they jumped at the opportunity to get their children vaccinated. Although some were concerned about the short-term effects, such as fatigue and soreness of the arm, many thought the vaccines were safe and necessary to prevent coronavirus infection.

One parent, however, decided that the vaccine, relatively new and lacking long-term studies, was not worth the risk.

Lydia Rosado, mother of a family visiting relatives in the area, was walking near Herrell’s Ice Cream Wednesday morning with her three sons and daughter. She decided not to vaccinate her boys, who are old enough to get vaccinated, she said.

“I don’t think there is quite enough evidence to get (the vaccine),” Rosado, most recently of Virginia, said. “They could do more harm than good.”

After researching coronavirus vaccinations for adolescents and reading up on what doctors have said about the vaccine, Rosado said she wanted more time and information from studies before she felt comfortable enough to vaccinate her children.

“I’d like to see more of a majority one way or another,” said Rosado, who is vaccinated herself. She differentiated between the dangers for adults and adolescents.

“If something goes wrong with the vaccine, the fallout for children is for their entire lives,” Rosado said.

A concern of hers is the potential adverse effect the vaccine has in adolescent boys she’s read in the press. She also personally heard of a relative’s friend whose daughter had a “horrible, allergic reaction.”

“I am kind of wary,” Rosado said. As for taking precautions when out in public, Rosado said her children stay socially distant when possible, wear masks when asked to, and spend as much time outside as possible.

Benefit vs. risk

In recent weeks, federal agencies have received reports of signs of possible heart inflammation, known as myocarditis, in a small percentage of adolescents soon after the vaccine. Reports tend to be more common in young boys than girls. The CDC, in a statement on its website, said the “known and potential benefits of COVID-19 vaccination outweigh the known and potential risks, including the possible risk of myocarditis or pericarditis.”

Gottsegen also said the benefits of the vaccine outweigh the risks of the coronavirus disease, and that cases of heart inflammation have been very low and typically resolved within a short amount of time, typically a few days if not a couple weeks. The rates of cases tend to be a small fraction of the overall vaccinated population, Gottsegen said, and the CDC reported this week that, out of nearly 4 million children, ages 12 to 17, vaccinated during a seven-week window, fewer than 400 potential cases of myocarditis were reported.

Nikki Caci, a Palmer resident visiting downtown on Wednesday, said she is planning for her son to get vaccinated once he turns 12, which won’t be for another year. She added she has some concerns about the side effects, but concluded that she ultimately thinks getting vaccinated is the best option.

“In the long run, it’s probably a good idea,” Caci said. Her 18-year-old son has gotten both doses of the vaccine, and he felt groggy the day after the second dose. “He was out for a full day.”

Caci herself is fully vaccinated. She works in the public education system and although it was required, she wanted to get it so she could protect her elder family members.

“I’m healthy enough to do it and that was the main reason,” Caci said.

These days, she said her younger children, including a daughter too young for the vaccine, are more lax about mask-wearing. They wear masks in heavily congested areas, she said, and they are “cautious, but mostly unmasked.”

“We want them to be able to breathe,” Caci said, especially with summer officially here.

Parents’ decisions on getting their children vaccinated are “totally a personal decision,” Caci said. “There’s no judgment. People know what is best for their child.”

She is against forcing people or adolescents to get vaccinated, but noted how her son going to college in the fall was forced to get it. “It is what it is,” she said, adding that she understands why universities would require vaccinations considering that students are in close quarters.

Following the experts

A family visiting downtown from Wethersfield, Connecticut, were heading into Thornes Marketplace on Thursday. Mother and father, Bonnie and Luke Smith, were with their daughters Clair, 12, Chamille, 13, and Weyland, 8.

The two oldest were vaccinated, and Bonnie said her youngest would be getting vaccinated as well once it becomes available for him.

How she made her decision to vaccinate her children? “The CDC under the Biden administration, period,” said Bonnie, who works in public health.

Weyland said he wants to get vaccinated so that he no longer has to wear a mask, the only one in the party on Thursday wearing one.

Chamille said she was nervous about the potential side effects of the vaccine shot, but not the vaccine itself. Clair also said she wasn’t nervous about the vaccine.

“A million people got it before me,” Clair said. Her father, Luke, said he wasn’t worried about getting the vaccine himself, but felt a little more apprehensive for his daughters.

Bonnie Smith said she has heard from other mothers reluctant to vaccinate their children that they want to wait and see how the vaccines affect adolescents, and some other “false things,” such as the vaccine affecting women’s fertility.

Gottsegen also said he had heard the concern that the coronavirus vaccine affects a woman’s fertility, but said that it is not possible. The messenger RNA of the vaccines that cause immune cells to produce antibodies against the spike proteins against COVID do not enter the nucleus of a cell, he said.

Not far away from Thornes was couple Tim Sossa and Jill Johnson with children Rowen Hashim, 11, and 4-month-old Nathaniel Sossa.

Johnson said she hopes the vaccine becomes available for children under the age of 12 so Rowen can get vaccinated before school starts again in the fall. “I’m excited about getting it,” said Rowen, who is looking forward to no longer wearing a mask.

Johnson and Sossa both work in education and said they believe it’s important to get adolescents vaccinated in order to reach herd immunity, and to get children back in school safely later this year.

“Now, with no mask orders, we’re more anxious to go places,” Sossa said. “We don’t know if people are being honest.” He added he would feel be more comfortable if his daughter were vaccinated.

“We are lucky to be living in this part of the state and country where most people are vaccinated,” Sossa noted. He said part of getting past the pandemic will be for people who can get the vaccine to get it.

Gill Cuevas, 20, a student at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, was walking into A.P.E. Gallery on Main Street on Thursday with brothers Ari, 15, and Jorge, 10. Both Gill and Ari were vaccinated, and so were all the members of their family, who live in Gardner.

Ari said he had “no concern” for getting vaccinated. “For the most part, I’m relieved. Since I’ve been vaccinated, I’ve been able to worry less about the pandemic, and it’s easier not having to carry around a mask. It’s more enjoyable.”

Jorge said he wants to get vaccinated as soon as he can. “I’m not nervous, and not really, really excited, it would just be less worry off my chest.”

Luis Fieldman can be reached at lfieldman@gazettenet.com

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