A healthcare worker holds a vial of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami, in this Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2021, file photo. Credit: Lynne Sladky / AP

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Dee Kerry is the executive director of the Maine Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Matthew Wellington is Public Health Campaigns Director for the US PIRG EducationFund.

Once the FDA authorizes a COVID-19 vaccine for 5- to 11-year-olds, parents should feel confident vaccinating their children.

Few things bind us together like the primal urge to keep our children safe from harm. It’s a daunting task for parents, who are often riddled with decisions that are difficult in normal times, but even more so during a pandemic.

The good news is that those decisions are likely to get much easier for parents with younger children soon. In the coming weeks, the Food and Drug Administration will decide whether to grant emergency authorization for a vaccine against COVID-19 for children ages 5 to 11.

Here’s what parents need to know about COVID-19, its risks to children, and why vaccinating your 5- to 11-year-olds as soon as you can after FDA authorization is the best way to protect them.

The delta variant of the virus that causes COVID-19 can seriously affect children, more so than previous versions of the virus. Between this more virulent variant and a return to in-person schooling across the country, we’ve seen a sharp uptick in childhood infections. And as cases among youth increase, so do hospitalizations. It spreads faster and easier, infecting more children in a shorter period of time than earlier variants. Some health experts worry it may also lead to more severe disease in young people.

More children under the age of 12 in Maine tested positive in September than in any other month since the pandemic began.  Seven children were hospitalized with COVID-19 in the state last month. And our schools reported 108 outbreaks in September; the Bangor area was hit particularly hard. These outbreaks not only pose a risk to children’s health, they also disrupt normal learning routines and impact the overall quality of life.

Vaccines are our best tool to fight this virus. The COVID-19 vaccine has been proven safe and effective for people ages 12 and older. Hundreds of millions of doses have been administered across the country, with few serious adverse effects reported, under close monitoring. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention the COVID-19 vaccine will have “the most intensive safety monitoring in U.S. history.”

Maine’s COVID-19 vaccination rates remain strong. In Maine, over 1.7 million doses have been administered; our full vaccination rate for all eligible people is 75 percent, while it is 59 percent in the 12-19 age group. If the FDA authorizes the vaccine for emergency use in 5-11 year olds, which seems likely, parents should be fully confident it is safe and effective for their children.

Vaccinating children against COVID-19 is critical for many reasons.

It is the best way to protect them against illness and hospitalization.

It is the best way to prevent long term, more serious symptoms from the disease.

It makes our school communities safer, limiting disruptions to in-person learning, which is critical to child development.

Children can and do transmit COVID-19 to vulnerable family members.

And this pandemic will continue indefinitely unless we increase the overall vaccination rate.

Maine has one of the higher vaccination rates in the country, but it’s still not enough to neutralize this virus, and we also have counties with higher than average transmission rates. As long as there is a big enough pool of people, including children, where the virus can spread rapidly and mutate, the longer we’ll struggle against new variants that could be more dangerous in the future; vaccines can protect our children and families and stop the spread!

The bottom line is that as a parent, you make a hundred hard decisions a day to protect your children. Vaccinating them against COVID-19 should be an easy one. If you have questions about the shots after the FDA authorizes them for younger children, please talk to your child’s health care provider.