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Little arms, big decisions: Bloomington-Normal parents on the COVID vaccine

A child receives a COVID shot at McLean County Health Department vaccine clinic
Emily Bollinger
A child receives a COVID shot at a McLean County Health Department vaccine clinic.

Nothing about being a parent is easy. When it comes to the health and well-being of kids, parents can agonize over even the smallest decision. It should come as no surprise, then, that the question of whether to vaccinate kids ages 5-11 against COVID-19 is a big one for parents. And as has been the case with almost every aspect of the pandemic, there are no easy answers.

For Bloomington parent Mark Weaver, the answer is no. He and his wife have decided against the COVID vaccine for their daughters, ages 7 and 9. He’s not opposed to vaccines, Weaver explained. His children attend public school and are up to date on their immunizations. But the COVID shot gives him pause.

Mark Weaver
Bloomington parent Mark Weaver and his family.

“This one has been different,” Weaver said.

In addition to concerns about how quickly the vaccine was developed, shifting metrics have eroded Weaver’s confidence in public health officials. From “two weeks to bend the curve” to current vaccination campaigns, the narrative has shifted too many times, Weaver said.

And when it comes to vaccinating young children, Weaver doesn’t see a need.

“In our county, we’ve seen no children suffer loss of life because of this,” he said. “And when I say children, we’re talking younger than 30.” (This statement was accurate at the time of Weaver's interview with WGLT. The county health department on Nov. 12 announced the death of a man in his 20s.)

But for Bloomington parent Katie Fizdale, that kind of data doesn’t offer much comfort. Even though children often don’t seem to suffer COVID’s worst effects, Fizdale isn’t willing to take the risk.

“Some kids aren’t getting sick at all, some kids are ending up in the ICU or the NICU. Those are numbers that I’m just not willing to play with,” Fizdale said. Her daughter, who’s 5, has already received her first dose of the vaccine.

More than 8,300 kids ages 5 to 11 have ended up in the hospital with COVID-19. According to the CDC, the number of kids hospitalized for COVID increased nearly fivefold over the summer months, during the delta surge.

Fizdale said even though the risk of serious illness in kids seems relatively low, she still worries about all the unknowns surrounding the virus.

“As a parent, the hard thing has been that we still don’t know that much about the long-term effects of COVID on any of our bodies,” she said.

The uncertainties surrounding COVID also trouble Weaver, though his concerns center more around the vaccine and its efficacy. He points to the fact that, in some cases, vaccinated people can still contract and spread COVID. Weaver said that's one reason his family is opting against the vaccine.

Bloomington parent Katie Fizdale.

“The cause for vaccination, I think, decreased for us when the promise of vaccination decreased for everyone,” he said.

The CDC says COVID vaccines protect everyone ages 5 and up from getting infected and severely ill. The shots also significantly reduce the likelihood of hospitalization and death. But as with other vaccines, the COVID vaccine is not 100 percent effective.

Weaver said the possibility of breakthrough infections sets the COVID vaccine apart from other immunizations, like polio. Weaver doesn’t consider his children to be at high risk for COVID. Therefore, he doesn’t see the need to vaccinate them when the shot isn’t guaranteed to prevent them from contracting or spreading the virus.

Fizdale said she sees the COVID vaccine as another layer of mitigation, like masking. It’s also something that she hopes can help restore some peace of mind after months of pandemic restrictions. “Because it has felt so long, I hadn’t really registered how much of the worry I carried around with me all the time.”

Weaver’s experience of worrying about the virus has been different. He and his wife both contracted COVID and dealt with only mild symptoms. While he acknowledges that’s not everyone’s experience with COVID, Weaver and his family have chosen to rely on natural immunity, rather than the vaccine.

“It just seems, for me and my family, not necessary,” he said.

Fizdale said in choosing the vaccine, she considered her daughter’s health as well as the community.

“It’s not just a decision we made with just our family in mind,” she said. “It seems like it’s the best decision for everyone.”

Sarah Nardi is a correspondent at WGLT. She rejoined the station in 2024.