Parents, the time is almost here.

It’s been months since most parents became eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine. But many still are tethered by the pandemic, worried about the risks of the virus — however small they may be — to their younger children who don’t yet have any immune protection.

Not for much longer, though. The Food and Drug Administration meets next week to review data on clinical trials of the vaccine for ages 5-11. Then, a federal advisory committee will take up the matter the first week in November.

With any luck, soon after that meeting, shots will start going into arms, and those parents who have been taking precautions for the last year and a half can start to loosen up. Play dates can start again. Traveling. Visits to relatives. Maybe even indoor dining.

But it isn’t good news just for those worried about COVID and the health of their children. It’s good news for anyone who wants this all over as soon as possible. By opening another significant portion of the population to the vaccine, we can get closer to the community-level immunity necessary to really slow the spread of the virus.

Until then, COVID will continue to circulate, fueled by those who can’t or won’t get the vaccine. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the unvaccinated are six times more likely to test positive than the immunized, and 11 times more likely to die from COVID.

Mainers are seeing that play out every day. Cumberland County, where the highest percentage of residents are vaccinated, also has the lowest case count per capita in recent weeks. Somerset County, with the lowest vaccination rate, has the highest case count, two-and-a-half times the rate of Cumberland.

And for all the handwringing over the workforce effects of Gov. Janet Mills’ vaccine mandate for health care workers, the real problem is the number of workers sidelined because they are either infected or in quarantine.

That’s happening because too many people remain unvaccinated, allowing the virus to stick around.

Parents should remember that. Young children are at a very low risk of severe sickness from COVID. But it does happen; the risk of severe illness, experts say, is certainly higher than the risk of any complications from the vaccine.

In any case, children can spread the virus, bringing it into schools and into family holiday celebrations, perhaps sickening others and causing disruptions and quarantines. Many elderly and immunocompromised members of the community are still at great risk to the disease.

Vaccinating kids can help protect those community members. Kids are less likely to spread the virus if vaccinated. The more younger children who are vaccinated, the bigger shield we’ll have against the virus, leading to fewer cases and fewer disruptions.

But uptake has been slow on eligible kids in Maine, with just 56% of those age 12-15 vaccinated so far.

Every family will make the determination for themselves. But the vaccine has been safe and effective for every population so far, with nearly 900,000 Mainers, including many under the age of 18, fully vaccinated without problem. There’s no reason to be hesitant.

Schools, pediatricians and state health officials have been preparing for this moment. As soon as the FDA gives its OK, they’ll start giving shots at schools and doctor’s offices.

Parents shouldn’t have any reservations about giving their kid the vaccine, both for their own health, and the health of the community.


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