Indignant That Youngsters Nonetheless Need to Put on Masks? Us Too. Get Vaccinated
As a pediatrician and mother, I have spent the last 16 months experiencing COVID through the lens of the havoc it is wreaking on children and families. I remember the first few months during the first wave of New York City where children were locked in apartments watching their loved ones suffer and die as their families began to take the incredible weight of the financial, social, and emotional toll of the world Pandemic bear. I remember lying awake just months later when the mysterious, terrifying Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children (MIS-C) hit our hospitals and robbed us of our only sense of security: that infection could physically spare our children.
And I’ve been watching ever since. I have seen our society prioritize the whims of adults over the health of children. Adults ripping off their masks from herd immunity or children’s own vaccinations could protect children. Communities reopening restaurants in front of schools. And even more confusing and annoying than anything is refusing in large numbers to accept a safe, effective vaccine that can end this pandemic for them.
The world of hesitation and decision-making when it comes to vaccines is far from monolithic. I do not claim to understand the full complexity of each individual’s case for denying or postponing these vaccinations. I also do not devalue them directly. The medical establishment faces centuries of abuse. The anti-vaccine propaganda machine is ingenious in its tactics. Disinformation abounds and doubts are natural, even understandable.
But the fact remains that our collective inability to adopt these miraculous vaccines is causing indelible and immeasurable harm to our children. Don’t let the talking heads fool you: this pandemic is hurting children. COVID infection can be severe in children and simple quotes about death rates dishonor the lives of the children we have lost. The known, emerging, and unknown long-term health effects of COVID scare pediatricians even more than acute illnesses in many cases. And the ongoing transmission of mutations that keep vaccinating us in an arms race and increasing children’s health risks is perhaps the greatest danger of all.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recently issued recommendations advocating universal masking to keep all children safe and sustainable in school, a sentiment that was reflected in last week’s CDC guidelines. The result was an expected, if absurd, continuation of the war on masks. The call and the answer have become routine for us parents. We cry out for help so that others can do their part and allow our children to return to some semblance of pre-pandemic normalcy. We hear nonsensical choruses. We are told to take the masks off our children and, of sheer willpower, bring them back to the world they once knew. We are asked to tear off a plaster as if this would heal the wound underneath. We are told that masks are the only cause of pandemic trauma, rather than the most noticeable and visible sign of its ongoing damage.
When I see so many adults focus on children’s masks and ignore everything else, I can understand the impulse. Their masks are a sign of our failure, a neon signpost pointing out our sheer inability to take the collective action necessary to restore them to a world they deserve.
But here’s the thing: even pediatricians and parents want masks from children. We are devastated that our children continue to bear the burden of this pandemic, and we are deeply shocked when we are mistakenly told that our desire to protect them is in some way to blame for their suffering. It’s exhausting and we need help.
Are you mad that kids are still wearing masks? Me too. I hope your concern is sincere because you can help parents and pediatricians in our legal profession. There is a clear path to a mask-free, safe, social and sustainable reality for our children that is paved almost entirely by vaccinations.
I know you have concerns, I know this feels new, I know there is a healthy skepticism about our systems, and I know the misinformation you are facing. But before refusing vaccination, before postponing it to an indefinite future date, before letting the experts win, give us a moment. Ask us your questions and let us address your concerns. Think of the children whose masks make you so uncomfortable and the damage this pandemic is causing them with no clear end in sight. Decide if you don’t need, don’t want, or don’t care about your COVID vaccination is reason enough to postpone a return to normal for them. Understand that the fear and uncertainty about this vaccine may be real, but overcoming it will forever change the lives of millions of children for the better.
Rebekah Diamond, MD, is a New York City hospital pediatrician and an assistant professor of pediatrics at Columbia University. She is the author of the upcoming book Parent Like a Pediatrician and she also gives safe, realistic parenting instructions on Instagram @parentlikeapediatrician.