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Parents Anxious to Vaccinate Young Children Describe an Agonizing Wait

Tyfanee Pratt’s son Julian was born in November 2019 in Burlington, N.J. Before long, Ms. Pratt was ready to introduce him to the world. But then, she wrote, “Covid-19 slammed the door on us — locked us in and hid away the key.”

Ms. Pratt responded to a call to New York Times readers, asking parents of young children about life with an unvaccinated baby, toddler or preschooler.

“His father and I have been his cellmates,” she wrote to The Times, adding that the experience nearly destroyed their relationship.

A committee of experts advising the F.D.A. voted on Wednesday to recommend that the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna pediatric coronavirus vaccines be authorized for young children. If the rest of the regulatory process moves swiftly, children could begin getting the shots as soon as next week.

Most parents are not so eager to get their young children vaccinated, surveys have found. A Kaiser Family Foundation survey this spring found that about two in five parents said they planned to wait and see how the vaccine works for others before deciding what to do. And 38 percent said they would definitely not get their children vaccinated, or would do so only if required.

A number of parents who wrote that they were in no rush to get their children vaccinated said it was because the children had already been infected with the virus. But at Wednesday’s F.D.A. committee meeting, a Moderna official said the company’s study found that young children who got Omicron and were vaccinated had greater levels of protection, a conclusion backed by outside research.

“Because the mortality rate for children is super low, and having already had a bout with Covid omicron version, we should be OK for a while,” a parent in New York City wrote to The Times. “Unless any variant comes up with more dire consequences for those under 5, I would wait until my child turns 5 to vaccinate likely.”

Adrian Bryant of Willowbrook, Ill., who has a 3½-year-old daughter, said he was “not sold” on giving the vaccines to young children, explaining, “My child had Covid twice that I’m aware of, and although she was sick, she did bounce back quickly.”

But for parents like Ms. Pratt who do want to vaccinate their children, the wait has been agonizing.

More than 1,600 parents responded to The Times’s call in less than 24 hours last month. Their outpouring of thoughts and feelings reflected how they and their children have suffered without access to a pediatric vaccine — emotionally, socially and financially. Here are some of the ways they described the wait: Hell. Brutal. Torture. Terrifying. Horrible. Heartbreaking.

“Nearly lost my job and my mind,” wrote one parent. “Halved my income,” said another. “The hardest time in my life.” “I feel helpless and hopeless.” “Extremely lonely; I’m tearing up as I’m writing this.” “Every cough sets me on edge.”

“We aren’t making memories.” “My kids are missing out on being kids.” “I’ve been breast feeding for 20 months to give her some immunity.” “It’s like trying to protect them from an avalanche.”

Many parents expressed anguish that their children might suffer developmental delays because they have never had a play date or any of the usual contact with children their age.

“When my 2.5-year-old had his first friend over to play, he kept touching her to see if she was real,” wrote Lauren Klinger of St. Petersburg, Fla. “It’s soul-crushing.”

Angela Smith, a former web designer who founded a nonprofit organization called Pantry Collective, is now a stay-at-home mother of a 2-year-old girl in Colorado Springs. “She doesn’t know all she’s missing out on, and I’m thankful for that,” Ms. Smith wrote. “But I do, and that’s what makes me sad.”

“She’s only been to church twice since March 2020, both times masked. I worry constantly that we have become too lax, but we are the only ones still masking our unvaccinated child in public indoor spaces. I have resorted to paying my children $1 every time they wear a mask in public indoor places.” — Kristen Green Wiewora, Searcy, Ark.

“Leave the kids alone. Perfect the vaccine (which usually takes 10 years!!) and then get the kids involved. I think the earliest a child should get this vaccine is in their late teens.” — Patricia Verma, Reno, Nev.

“We barely go anywhere. When my 2.5-year-old had his first friend over to play, he kept touching her to see if she was real. It’s soul-crushing, scary, sad, not at all what I expected from parenting when I got pregnant in 2019.” — Lauren Klinger, St. Petersburg, Fla.

“Imagine Groundhog Day, but full off worry, stress, loneliness, heartbreak. She doesn’t know all she’s missing out on, and I’m thankful for that. But I do, and that’s what makes me sad. — Angela Smith, Colorado Springs

“It’s exhausting and heartbreaking. Every day, I choke back tears when getting her ready for day care. We haven’t left our home state, seen the inside of an airport, or been in a room with more than 12 people since February of 2020.” — Katie Nelb, McKinney, Texas

“I’m not sold on efficacy and potential side effects.” — Adrian Bryant, Willowbrook, Ill.

Many wrote of how the pandemic had exposed societal divisions, a lack of trust in government and public health, and a lack of empathy for others. One New York City mother wrote that she and her toddler often wait 20 minutes to use their apartment building’s elevator by themselves, rather than risk riding with an unmasked passenger.

A parent in Denver wrote, “We are a nation of selfish children, except for the children themselves.”

Katie Nelb, an information technology worker and mother of a 3-year-old in McKinney, Texas, wrote: “I have friends and acquaintances who have gotten on planes, gone to events and wandered through grocery stores either knowingly having Covid or while having symptoms but not wanting to test. And because I know so many people are doing those things while my child has no protection, my family is forced to still live in lockdown after two and a half years.”

Alli Chan is a pediatric intensive care nurse in St. Louis. Her husband is an emergency medicine doctor. Their youngest is nearly 3; their 6-year-old has immune deficiencies.

She and her husband felt so strongly about protecting their children that they told relatives that they would see them only if they were vaccinated. “We have to protect our children, and if our extended family isn’t willing to do that, then we’ll protect our children from them, too,” she wrote.

Kristen Green Wiewora of Searcy, Ark., said others in her town did not share her worries about the spread of infection in public indoor spaces, making it harder for her to keep her own children, ages 4 and 8, wearing masks.

“We are the only ones still masking our unvaccinated child,” she wrote. “I have resorted to paying my children a dollar every time they wear a mask in public indoor places.”

Ms. Pratt’s son Julian is now 2½ and curious about everything. She ticked off what he missed as other Americans got vaccinated and returned “to the comfort of familiar routines and everyday freedom”:

“He has never even been to a grocery store or a mall,” she wrote. “Never gone trick-or-treating with friends. Never sat on Santa’s lap. Never been to an indoor family gathering. He has yet to meet or spend time with the majority of our friends and family.

“We are on the inside, looking out,” she wrote.

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