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‘My worst fear came true’

With vaccines for babies on the brink of approval, my toddler got COVID-19.

Article Author: Katie McPherson

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Katie McPherson is a health care writer for multiple publications, including Juice. This is her personal account of her family's experience when her toddler contracted COVID-19.

On the first day of lockdown in March 2020, my husband and I sat on our porch and made our projections for how long COVID-19 would last. He works in health care administration and I’m a freelance health reporter, so we speak with experts on the subject daily. Still, we figured life would be back to normal within a few months. We couldn’t have fathomed the magnitude of this pandemic.

We had been trying to get pregnant for a while, and finally, in July 2020, we saw those two pink lines. Our baby was due in March 2021. By then, a year after it all began, we thought COVID-19 would be a thing of the past.

In reality, it defined our biggest milestone yet.

Instead of disappearing, COVID-19 shaped every experience we had during pregnancy, childbirth and our son’s life.

I received my vaccine while pregnant, hoping that, like the flu and TDAP shots, some immunity might pass on to my baby (studies later showed this hunch was correct). During pregnancy, we had hard conversations with family members, setting the boundary that anyone who wanted to hold the baby must have their COVID-19 vaccine. We had a tiny baby shower with our parents and siblings, who had to quarantine in advance to attend. We canceled a drive-by shower with friends after we were exposed to the virus.

When our son, Cooper, was born, people we wanted in the delivery room couldn’t be there because visitation was (rightfully) limited. While I had been tested ahead of my induction and was allowed to go mask-free in labor, my son met his father and grandmother with masks on.

Despite our best efforts, we couldn’t protect him forever.

While I was able to work from home and care for our son until he was 11 months old, we finally chose to enroll him in daycare. Cases were down and it seemed like a safe decision. Then, at 14 months old, Cooper tested positive for COVID-19. My worst fear over the last two years came true, just weeks before vaccines for his age group became available. I felt panicked, defeated and guilty. What could I have done differently to prevent this?

After a few days of high fevers, fatigue and congestion, his symptoms seemed to clear up. But for the next three weeks, his body fought hard against antibiotic-resistant ear infections caused by the virus. One night, his fever shot up past 104 degrees, and he woke crying and delirious. We headed straight to Wolfson Children’s Emergency Center.

My husband and I checked in and took a seat in the waiting room, with Cooper stripped down to his diaper, both of us fanning him as he lay on my chest. We saw children of all ages, some with broken bones or bloody noses, and others who looked just as sad as our scared, sweaty little boy. Everywhere I looked, it felt like I was seeing the same message in flashing neon lights: You can’t protect your baby.

During a second Emergency Room visit, our baby was tested for MIS-C, a serious and sometimes fatal complication of COVID-19. While we were so grateful results showed that was not the cause of his symptoms, knowing it was a possibility terrified us. He required IV antibiotics to treat his ears. He’s better now, but the fear of seeing him that sick again is stronger than ever.

The truth is, I can protect him from COVID-19.

While I can’t put my child in a bubble and guarantee we’ll never have to go back to the ER, I know that with the help of a vaccine, I can safeguard him against getting COVID-19 again in the future. Maybe one day we’ll be back for a cast on a broken arm (he’s already a daredevil), but hopefully we’ll never again load him into the car at midnight wondering if this is the night when MIS-C lands our son in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU), or if he’ll live with long COVID-19 for years to come.

Parents of children between 6 months and 5 years old, vaccines for our little ones are finally available. We now have the ability to protect them from this virus, to give them a tiny invisible bubble, an opportunity that simply doesn’t exist in so many other aspects of their health.

Take it from me, because I take it from them.

I know misinformation about the vaccine is rampant and scary. I know it’s confusing when we don’t have all the answers about this virus and the guidance changes from one day to the next. And I know how much every parent just wants to protect their child.

I have the privilege of interviewing pediatricians every day for work, and I know firsthand how deeply they care about every child’s health, happiness and quality of life. Of the dozens of doctors I’ve spoken with about vaccines since this pandemic began, every single one has recommended it for adults and children alike, and given it to their own kids as soon they could.

Now that the FDA has approved and CDC has recommended shots for our youngest children, my baby is finally eligible to receive his first dose. Our family is ready to put COVID-19 behind us, knowing our little boy is safe.

The COVID-19 vaccine is now available to all children 6 months and older. For information on vaccine safety, risks and benefits, and where to make an appointment, visit wolfsonchildrens.com/covid19. You can find additional information and locations at vaccines.gov.

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