This article is a continuation of a series of stories on COVID-19, vaccinations and their impact. The San Fernando Valley Sun/el Sol will continue this series and talk to additional parents who share their points of view in our upcoming issues.
(COVID-19 vaccines for children, starting at age 6 months to 5 years have now been approved by both the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Center for Disease Control (CDC). Public Health is encouraging parents to vaccinate eligible children. LA County has more than 900 locations that will begin administering vaccines for children under age 5 this week, including almost 180 healthcare provider facilities, over 200 pharmacies, 400 mobile sites, and seven county-run vaccination sites.
As California public health officials roll out the distribution of infant and toddler vaccines to physicians and clinics this week, they may find more parents are hesitant. It’s a big leap of faith that many may not be willing to take, although public health officials emphasize the benefits outweigh the risks.
For some parents, vaccinating their older children for COVID-19 was what they understood they needed to do to get them back into their schools. But parents may not feel it’s necessary for their youngest children, especially if they aren’t attending nursery or pre-school.
For many parents, giving their children under five the COVID-19 vaccination isn’t an easy move – as one parent expressed – because “they are so little” and their concerns about a “new drug” make them “very nervous.”
For Sylmar mom Alyssa Sonora, there is no debate. She hasn’t vaccinated her two older children and has no plans anytime soon to vaccinate her 19-month-old baby. She and her husband Armando are also not vaccinated.
When she heard the June 17 announcement for the vaccination of babies starting at 6 months old, Sonora said she was very “concerned and upset.”
“It’s dangerous and very concerning,” she said. “We haven’t done enough research and studying on this drug being put in our bodies, and there can be adverse effects. I want people to understand that this is a personal choice and it’s important for people to know that it’s a choice,” she said.
“I’ve gone through two years of scrutiny,” she explained. She said she has even been called a “bad mom,” by members of her own family. It’s only her own immediate family that isn’t vaccinated.
Sonora belongs to the organization, Los Angeles Educators and Parents United or LAEPUNITED – their stated mission is to “unify LAUSD parents and educators to fight against LAUSD mandates”– and is willing to publicly express her concern and those of other parents who have found their way to her door and worry about the “unknown of a drug that was quickly developed.”
She and her husband Armando have three sons: 13-year-old Izrael, 12-year-old Urik and 19-month-old Sylis.
“I kept thinking about all of the parents who aren’t educated or informed on vaccines and are just doing what they are told, but no one is doing any background and aren’t doing any research and if you see the inserts for Pfizer and Moderna or J&J – they are blank because they don’t have the ingredients and side effects listed because it is a literally an experimental drug – it’s not fully FDA approved, it’s FDA approved for emergency use only and not to mention that the deaths for Covid for children is less than 4 percent nationwide,” she claims.
“So why do it?” Sonora asks.
She said that she began to think differently about vaccinations years ago when her oldest son, after receiving the MMR vaccine, stopped talking.
“Unfortunately I wasn’t aware of the dangers of vaccines for my older children,” Sonora said. “Our doctor told us to monitor him, and we did and we later learned he is on the [Autism] spectrum with Aspergers.”
She said after that experience, she began to spread out the vaccines for her second son.
“Babies are already getting so many vaccines,” she said. After raising her concerns with her children’s long-time pediatrician, Sonora said she learned that the vaccinations could be spread out to one per year if she chose to do so.
“It’s crazy, people are giving their babies all of these vaccinations and aren’t being informed that they could spread them out – babies get vaccinated at 3 months, 6, 9 months a year, 15 months all the way to the age of 2 years old and people aren’t even told that if you aren’t comfortable, you can spread them out – you are never told that.
“They want to vaccinate our children at that particular time… and I haven’t vaccinated my baby,” she said
Sonora said she has been “harassed” by others asking why she hasn’t vaccinated her baby. “I tell them that vaccinations are recommended but are not required and you should see — my baby is very healthy, — you can see a clear difference from my oldest sons at this age compared to my baby. My baby was also breastfed and he hasn’t had rashes or food allergies.”
“It’s scary and I could cry with what I put my [oldest] son through [with taking so many vaccinations at once], why are we still talking about a polio vaccine when it’s been eradicated?” she asks.
She takes strong issue with the term “anti-vax,” which Sonora views as a label that has a negative stigma, and points out that there are other parents who are members of her group who are vaccinated, but take issue with mandates and being told they have no choice or rights. She said unvaccinated teachers have already been informed that they aren’t being rehired after the summer vacation.
Sonora said she might reconsider having her youngest child vaccinated if he goes to public school but would spread the standard vaccinations out until the age of 5. But she still wouldn’t include giving him the COVID-19 vaccine.
This week, public health officials and medical facilities began to disseminate information to respond to parents’ questions and fears about this latest vaccine. They counter the claim that children aren’t at serious risk for COVID-19.
In a news release, Cedars-Sinai reports that the vaccine’s approval comes on the heels of the news that COVID-19 is now the fifth-leading cause of death in children one to four years old, and is the fourth-leading cause of death in children younger than one.
“Healthy children should get vaccinated,” said Priya Soni, MD, an assistant professor of Pediatric Infectious Disease at Cedars-Sinai Guerin Children’s. “Even if your child has zero medical risk factors, complications due to this virus can still occur and are not ones that you would want to take a chance with.
“As an infectious disease physician, I have taken care of many children who were previously completely healthy but developed serious complications such as severe lung infections, collapsed lungs, new-onset seizure disorders, long-haul COVID, or MIS-C (multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children). Some children have also developed post-COVID complications like bacterial meningitis. None of these children were previously vaccinated. Now they finally have the opportunity to be protected like the rest of the population, thus providing another potential advantage to vaccination.”
Soni also said that children can transmit the virus when they have no major symptoms.
“Young kids exposed to COVID-19 in child care settings or by their caregivers can then expose their vulnerable grandparents or other high-risk immunocompromised people. Several studies have shown that vaccinated people are infectious for a shorter period than unvaccinated people.”
For many parents like Sonora, the biggest fear is not from contracting COVID-19 but from getting the vaccine. She is concerned about the mRNA genetic technology used to make this vaccine and maintains that not enough is known now to gauge what could be long-term effects.
“I would rather risk catching COVID and beating COVID, rather than risk an adverse reaction to a drug that is only FDA emergency approved,” she said.