Will these doctors have their own kids vaccinated against COVID? “Absolutely yes.”
Like most kids, the Rochwerg brothers don’t like needles. But the four Hamilton boys, who range in age from 5 to 10, are looking forward to getting the COVID-19 vaccine as soon as it’s available for their age group. COVID vaccines for children aged 5-11 are expected to be approved in Canada within the next few weeks.
“I’m not the bravest when it comes to needles but I’m excited for the COVID vaccine because it will help our lives get back to normal,” says Nate, 10, who will roll up his sleeve when the time comes along with brothers Leo, 8, and 5-year-old twins Henry and Jake.
“Every parent wants to do what’s best for their child.”
Nate and Leo are old enough to remember life before the pandemic, and they yearn for the day when they can once again go to school without masks, play freely at recess, enjoy team sports without restrictions and visit their cousins and friends indoors.
Their parents – both doctors – plan to have all four of their children vaccinated against COVID.
“Vaccination is the pathway for life getting back to normal as quickly as possible,” says their dad Dr. Bram Rochwerg. He has been on the front lines of the pandemic since its beginning, as an intensive care physician and medical lead for the intensive care unit (ICU) at Hamilton Health Sciences’ Juravinski Hospital and Cancer Centre.
Commitment to kids’ vaccines
“COVID is almost exclusively a disease of the unvaccinated at this point,” he says. “The vast majority of COVID patients we’re seeing in the ICU are unvaccinated. It’s heartbreaking because their situation was preventable.”
“Our kids are super excited to get vaccinated.”
Although children are not at a high risk of severe outcomes from COVID, the vaccine is a good preventative measure. And while their risk is low, it’s not zero. There are children in intensive care units in Canada and the U.S. because of COVID.
As well as protecting children, vaccinations will help kids’ lives get back to normal. For example, children who get the virus will miss weeks of school and other activities. Vaccination will also help protect their family, friends and community.
“Protecting kids and the community through vaccination is crucial,” says Rochwerg.
Dr. Rachel Loewith is mom to the four boys, and a family physician in Hamilton. She fields questions every day from anxious patients who are agonizing over whether to vaccinate their 5-to-11-year-olds.
“These patients often ask me if I’ll get my own kids vaccinated,” says Loewith. “I tell them absolutely yes. This vaccine is safe, effective and essential in helping to keep kids safe and end the pandemic.”
Wanting the best for our kids
“Every parent wants to do what’s best for their child,” she adds. “I recognize that as a physician and as a parent.”
Vaccine hesitancy is often rooted in fear, including concerns over side effects. Short-term side effects such as pain at the injection site, fatigue, headache or muscle ache go away in a couple of days, while more serious side effects are extremely rare.
“Getting vaccinated is the way forward for everybody.”
Some parents ask Loewith specifically about pericarditis, inflammation of the lining around the heart, and myocarditis, which is inflammation of the heart muscle. They’re extremely rare, and in almost all cases are mild and treatable. “In fact, the risk of getting pericarditis or myocarditis from COVID is higher than getting it from the vaccine,” she says.
On the homefront
When Rochwerg and Loewith talk about their work day around the kitchen table, the conversation often turns to COVID and the deep concern they feel for those who are not vaccinated.
The Rochwerg kids sometimes join in the conversation, and they understand how serious COVID can be.
“They’re willing to trust the science.”
“We make sure to explain to them, in language appropriate for their ages, how important it is for everyone who’s eligible to get vaccinated,” says Loewith. “Our kids also saw our excitement when Bram and I got vaccinated last year, and they saw how happy we were when their grandparents got vaccinated. Our kids are super excited to get vaccinated. They’re ready for it.”
It helps that the boys aren’t on social media where misinformation circulates. “They’re willing to trust the science,” says Rochwerg.
Occasionally, their schoolmates share vaccine rumours. When that happens, the boys are quick to set the record straight. “A kid told me that the vaccine changes our DNA,” says Nate. “I explained that this wasn’t true.”
The pathway to normal
Meanwhile, life can’t return to normal soon enough for the brothers. “I find it really hard to wear a mask all day at school,” says Leo. “It’s uncomfortable and your face gets all sweaty.”
The athletic boys look forward to their sports returning to normal, including playing baseball, football and basketball. Their post-pandemic bucket list also includes indoor playdates with their friends and cousins, visits to their favourite trampoline park, family vacations and celebrating Hanukkah with their extended family.
“Rachel and I want our patients and the community to know that we are professionally and personally 100 per cent behind vaccines for anyone who’s eligible, including children,” says Rochwerg. “Our entire family, right down to our youngest kids, believes in this vaccine. Like everyone else, we’re sick of the pandemic and we want to move on. Getting vaccinated is the way forward for everybody.”