NEW BRAUNFELS, Texas (KXAN) — The Gardner family has learned to navigate risks and rewards during the pandemic.

Andrew Gardner with his family. “We’re weighing out the risks and rewards of their vaccination at their age,” he said of younger kids. (Courtesy: Andrew Gardner)

The family which includes six children between the ages of 15-years-old to a newborn said they’ve had to carefully examine every choice.

“We’re looking at education, risk of going to school in person versus online — risk of wearing a mask versus not wearing a mask,” said Andrew Gardner. “And every one of those choices has a plus and has a minus.”

The data scientist said that his family did the same when it came to the COVID-19 vaccine. Gardner, his wife, and their older kids are vaccinated. But he said they aren’t rushing with their 6-year-old, who’s now eligible to get Pfizer’s lower-dose shots.

“We see the risk and reward strong for ourselves as adults. We see the risk and reward as strong for our teenagers. And currently — given our younger children have had COVID and have a natural immunity — we’re weighing out the risks and rewards of their vaccination at their age,” Gardner explained.

Dr. Meena Iyer, Chief Medical Officer at Dell Children’s Medical Center in Austin and the Vice Chair of Clinical Affairs at UT Austin, Dell Medical School, said kids do have some immunity after COVID-19 infection, but added, “it’s not as strong as building immunity from getting the vaccine.”

Vaccine Safety

Children ages 5 and older can now get COVID-19 shots: the Pfizer vaccine is two doses. The second shot is recommended to be given three weeks after the first.

According to state health department data, in Texas more than 12% of children 5 to 11 years old have gotten the first dose of the vaccine since it was authorized last month.

But doctors are hearing from parents who are hesitant and not in a hurry to get their little ones the shots like they did for themselves or even their teens.

“There’s so much information out there — they’re just trying to understand what is right because they are making decisions for their child. So I still get a lot of questions from the parents,” explained Dr. Iyer.

Dell Children’s pediatricians and health care experts teamed up recently for a public education campaign encouraging parents to get eligible children vaccinated against COVID saying it’s safe and side effects are rare.

“Having a child vaccinated for COVID-19 can help restore a more normal life,” said Dr. Iyer in the 30-second video.

Dr. Iyer explained that the vaccine can also offer protection as new variants like the omicron emerge.

Impact of post-COVID illness

She said as they prepare for what the holidays could bring her team is seeing fewer cases. Last year Dr. Iyer explained that Dell Children’s was treating 10 to 15 COVID patients a day. Now it’s three to four who have been admitted for the virus.

“There are some kids especially they have some comorbidities like diabetes, hypertension, asthma, obesity — they can get really sick and end up in the ICU needing treatments like adult patients,” Dr. Iyer said.

She explained that while the virus is milder in children she worries about the rare post-COVID illness, Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children or MIS-C. It can cause inflammation to different body parts including the heart.

Dell Children’s has treated 70 MIS-C patients since the beginning of the pandemic. Dr. Iyer said they currently have one patient who is being treated.

“We still don’t know what is the long-term effects of this infection. So, as the vaccine is available, and we have evidence in science, that this does protect against infection, we want to make sure everyone who’s eligible gets the vaccine,” Dr. Iyer said. “So that’s why we are advocating that any patient or any person eligible gets the vaccine.”

She also explained that the vaccines do not lead to MIS-C and that it’s the infection which can cause the rare illness. She said that if a child has had COVID or MIS-C, it’s still safe to get the shots but after some time.

Dr. Iyer’s team is looking into developing a clinic which would follow-up with younger patients who have been discharged after a COVID or MIS-C diagnosis to track their recovery.

She encourages parents to talk to their pediatricians if they have questions about the safety and effectiveness.

She also said families should continue to mask up, wash hands and social distance, which she says will also help with other viruses like the flu. This is especially true as more people take part in bigger gatherings. 

Dell Children’s will hold COVID-19 vaccine clinics at the Austin Independent School District Performing Arts Center where walk-ins are welcome on Monday, Dec. 13 from  3 and 7 p.m. and Saturday, Jan. 8  from 8 a.m. to noon.

Vaccine Dilemma

In a report released in October, researchers from Northeastern, Harvard, Rutgers and Northwestern universities found in a 50-state survey that parental concerns around the vaccination had increased “significantly” from June to September 2021. Concerns over long-term effects and whether the vaccine has been tested enough were also considered.

“The risk-reward profile someone has in their head for themselves, of what they’ll do for themselves, is a different paradigm than what they have for a small child,” Gardner explained.

Andrew Gardner said during the pandemic his family has had to navigate risks and rewards of school, masking and now the COVID-19 vaccine. (Courtesy: Andrew Gardner)

He said his family all got COVID in August including his wife who was giving birth to their daughter.

“We’d both been vaccinated, and so it was fairly mild,” said Gardner. “And I certainly wouldn’t say ‘Hey, you’re vaccinated, go ahead and get COVID, it’s not a big deal.’ It was a big deal.”

He said the kids ended up recovering without any complications but were still monitored closely. 

His family has talked to the their pediatrician and he explained that right now they’re just trying to make the best decision possible for their younger children.

“I think that we all need to step back and acknowledge that we are doing the best we can. No one’s trying to put their kid in danger.” Gardner said. “[We’ll] probably end up at some point, vaccinating, but for the littles, we’ll just have to see.”