This editorial was published by the Tacoma News Tribune.


From her office at Pediatrics Northwest, Dr. Mary Ann Woodruff has heard the questions from parents and families. Her colleagues get them, too.

With the COVID-19 vaccine now available to children ages 5 to 11, many households are grappling with a decision months in the making: whether or not to get their kids immunized.

Most want to know if the vaccine is safe, Woodruff said. Others want to know if it’s necessary, compared to the risks of the coronavirus. Then there are the more far-fetched — and unfounded — concerns, like whether or not the shot will harm their child’s ability to have children in the future (thanks, Joe Rogan and Aaron Rodgers).

Woodruff said she attempts to answer each question sincerely — even the bizarre ones — based on the individual needs and circumstances of the patient and family. She seeks to reassure, she explained, relying on the expertise and respect she’s built over decades practicing medicine.

In almost every case, Woodruff said, local pediatricians are imploring parents to take advantage of the vaccine to protect their children and families.

“We’re just trying to say, as someone who values your family, and who has been there and advocated for you, we’ve carefully looked at this,” Woodruff said. “There’s data that we see that tells us this is a good idea. ... One, the child is less likely to be infected. Two, they’re less likely to infect others. And three, if they were to get enormously ill, they would still join the 98 percent of everyone else vaccinated that would not be hospitalized or die.”

“That’s really a way through,” Woodruff added.

Hopefully the straight talk proves persuasive, because if we want the COVID-19 nightmare to fade away sooner rather than later, getting as many Pierce County residents as possible to roll up their sleeves remains the surest way to do it — including children. We’ve been waiting for this moment for months, struggling to limit the spread of COVID-19 while our kids lacked the protection that the vaccine provides. One look at the situation on the ground — where youth coronavirus infection rates are still at record highs and unvaccinated 12-34 year-olds in Washington are five times more likely to get COVID-19 and 13 times more likely to be hospitalized compared with fully vaccinated 12-34 year-olds — provides all the warning we should need.

Let’s not blow it now.

Dr. Mary Fairchok is a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital in Tacoma. Like Woodruff, she’s hoping the local families line up to get their children vaccinated against COVID-19.

Fairchok is also confident that Pierce County has the system in place that will allow any eligible person who wants the vaccine to get it in the coming weeks, which for parents is an important piece of reassurance.

Much like the earliest days of vaccine availability, Fairchok said she expects there will be a rush of parents desperately trying to line up vaccine appointments or find local pop-up clinics. While she understands the urgency many are feeling, and agrees that parents should vaccinate their children as soon as possible — especially with the heart of flu season on its way — Fairchok urged patience and calm.

“Washington State has been quite proactive in getting access to the vaccine. People were able to start getting immunized within days of the approval,” Fairchok said, noting that local pediatricians, pharmacies and school districts have all been gearing up for this moment.

“It may take a while,” she continued. “The demand is usually going to be highest right here at the beginning, but I think it’ll even out.”

When weighing the decision, Fairchok — like Woodruff — urged local parents to think about the health of their children, and the health of the community as a whole. Even beyond the prospect of hospitalization and death, the potential of long-term COVID symptoms in youth worries her, she said.

“I would advise (parents) to look at (the vaccine) as an incredibly important tool that we have to end this pandemic for everyone, and that means that we also have to be immunizing our children,” Fairchok said. “This virus, it goes where it has tinder to burn. ... If we don’t get on top of it in all the age groups, it’s just going to keep on going.”

That’s the last thing our children need, and it’s the last thing Pierce County needs.

Thankfully, local parents — and the pediatricans counseling them — now have the ability to do something about it.