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Editorial: Vaccine can lift teens’ isolation

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Although children have so far proved to be at relatively low risk of developing life-threatening COVID-19 complications, there’s little doubt that the pandemic has affected them disproportionately in other ways.

For many, the long disruption to everyday routines, loss of in-person school settings, and the inability to easily socialize with friends or take part in sports and other group activities have contributed to a sense of isolation and mental health concerns. That’s why this week’s Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for kids age 12 to 15 is something to cheer.

With health authorities such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommending that the 12-and-older crowd get vaccinated, this task should be placed at the top of family to-do lists as the two-dose protection is safe, effective and easily accessible in Hawaii.

In addition to helping to clear the way to regain more teen normalcy, vaccination in this age bracket, which totals about 55,000 kids here, pushes Hawaii closer to herd immunity. While slightly more than 40% of residents are fully vaccinated, we need to reach a threshold of about 80% for immunity shielding, which would further scale back coronavirus-related public health restrictions and crank up economic recovery.

Much of the confidence in the move to expand the scope of the vaccine-eligible is based on a clinical trial in which the Pfizer shots proved to be 100% effective in preventing infection in 1,100 kids, age 12-15. Also, according to the FDA, the trial found that vaccinated adolescents had high levels of antibodies in their blood — a sign they had developed strong protective immunity.

Despite these optimistic gains, many parents — even some who are vaccinated themselves — are still likely to hesitate over the matter of consenting to having their children get shots right away. Fear related to the newness of the vaccine, and unknown future outcomes, is rational, of course. But outweighing those concerns are potential dangers tied to forgoing vaccination.

About 20% of COVID-19 cases in the U.S. have been in the 17-years-old and-younger grouping. While most children who catch the virus develop few or no symptoms, they can still infect others, who may be more vulnerable to illness. Also, there are also increasing concerns about long-term effects of infection — such as fatigue, respiratory issues and stomach problems; and in some student-athlete cases, heart inflammation. By comparison, the shot’s side effects are largely negligible.

For parents onboard with vaccination, shots are available at numerous Oahu locations. Among them: select Longs Drugs pharmacies, Blaisdell Center and the Pier 2 Vaccination Center. Also encouraging for both kids and adults who have missed out on regularly scheduled shots during the pandemic, the CDC has updated its guidance to say those other immunizations can be given at the same time as the COVID-19 shots. Previously, it had advised a two-week wait to monitor potential side effects.

Sadly, the pandemic has taken a toll on teen mental and emotional health, social well-being and their educational experience. Moving forward, families on the fence about vaccination must at least pursue prompt consultation with their pediatricians or other trusted health-care professionals on how to best prep their kids for summer and the return to more on-campus classroom instruction this fall.

While wearing masks and staying 6 feet apart from others reduce the chances of catching the virus or spreading it, the tool proving most effective is full vaccination. The most sensible course of action is for all eligible to go ahead and get that important layer of protection.

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