By Nadine Burke Harris, MD, MPH
Our state experienced the most devastating point of the pandemic last winter. More than 21,000 Californians were hospitalized with COVID-19 in the last week of December, and we lost 18,518 mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers to this deadly virus in January. The light at the end of the tunnel felt out of reach.
Today, we have the tools to help protect against another winter surge and avoid preventable hospitalizations and deaths: vaccines. More than 89 percent of Californians ages 12 and older have received at least one dose, and the FDA's recent authorization of the Pfizer vaccine for children ages 5-11 is a game changer. For the first time, whole families, from our young kids to our grandparents, can have protection against COVID-19.
As California's first Surgeon General, I am committed to making vaccination available to every eligible Californian. And as a mom of four boys, I am reassured that by having my children vaccinated, I am doing everything I can to keep them, our family and our community safe.
The number of infections is increasing, largely in unvaccinated people, who are 9.8 times more likely to be hospitalized and 16.9 times more likely to die from COVID-19 than fully vaccinated people. People of color are being hardest hit. We need all eligible Californians to get vaccinated or complete their vaccination series and get a booster as soon as they are eligible to help bring this pandemic to an end.
As a pediatrician, I know how crucial vaccination is in protecting children against other preventable diseases like measles, mumps, and chicken pox. The COVID-19 vaccine, which is specially dosed for children ages 5-11, offers an essential layer of protection against this deadly virus.
More than 700,000 children and adolescents in California have been infected with COVID-19. There have been more than 6,500 pediatric hospitalizations in our state since July of last year, and we have lost 38 young lives since the start of the pandemic. Children can experience "long COVID" and the virus can also cause Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children (MIS-C), in which a hyperactive immune system attacks the child's body. Our state alone has seen nearly 700 of these cases, half of whom had to be hospitalized in intensive care units.
Vaccination not only helps prevent these troubling outcomes, but also reduces spread of the virus to our loved ones, such as grandparents and others with more vulnerable immune systems.
And as the state's leader in efforts to train providers to identify and mitigate Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and childhood trauma, I know that the pandemic has taken a tremendous toll on our young people. They've struggled with social isolation, attending school virtually, as well as family stressors like job loss, food or housing insecurity, COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations and even the death of people they hold dear. Getting vaccinated provides kids a sense of security knowing they're better protected and that they are protecting others from becoming infected, as well.
It's understandable that some parents still have concerns. I can assure them that the COVID-19 vaccine was demonstrated to be safe and highly effective in comprehensive clinical trials with more than 4,500 children ages 5-11, and is held to the same rigorous safety and effectiveness standard as all other vaccines in the U.S.
In fact, the COVID-19 vaccines have gone through the most intensive safety monitoring in U.S. vaccine history. Millions of youth ages 12-18 have already received the vaccine with only mild side effects. Serious side effects are rare, and the benefits of vaccination are shown to far outweigh the risks. There is no evidence, either in clinical trial data or among the millions of women who have already received the vaccine, that it causes any fertility loss.
In contrast, vaccination is allowing more of our state's population to safely get back to the activities they love. Thanks to the safety measures in place, combined with high vaccination rates, our schools are safer than ever. Vaccinations have allowed kids 12-17 to rejoin sports teams, drama clubs and other activities – programs that provide enrichment and help them grow into healthy adults.
Our younger children deserve the same opportunities. These valiant little ones want to fully participate in life again. With the holiday gatherings and festivities approaching, this vaccine could not come at a better time.
Protect your family. Call your pediatrician or a local health clinic to schedule your child's vaccination appointment. You can also visit MyTurn.ca.gov or call 833-422-4255 to find a vaccination site near you.
Dr. Nadine Burke Harris is the Surgeon General of California. A pediatrician, she is at the forefront of the statewide campaign to reduce Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and toxic stress by half in one generation.