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Southern California parents of young kids worry as COVID-19 protocols disappear

As the mother of four who got the coronavirus vaccine shortly after becoming eligible, Krissy Brownell scheduled appointments for her 6- and 8-year-old children the week they could get the jab.

Now to inoculate the other two.

With an immunocompromised 2- and 4-year-old in her Los Alamitos home, Brownell has waited, obsessively, for drug makers to present and federal health officials to OK a COVID-19 vaccine for the approximately 18 million children younger than 5 in the U.S.

When that will happen, however, is anyone’s guess.



Brownell, 39, is among scores of parents with toddlers too young to be vaccinated who, on top of waiting for the green light to inoculate their tykes, now must adapt to the recent relaxation of safety measures put into place early in the pandemic to stem the spread of COVID-19 and subsequent, more-contagious-than-the-last variants.

“I don’t think it’s fair that safety measures are being relaxed before everyone has an opportunity to be vaccinated,” said Brownell, a teacher in the Huntington Beach City School District in Orange County. “We shut everything down for the grown-ups and then nobody seems to care about the little ones … It’s beyond frustrating because it’s like the rest of the world, if you want to be vaccinated, you can.

“Except for our kid.”

Considering how seriously the country has taken the threat of COVID-19 the past two years, not to mention the damage dealt to hundreds of thousands of families who have lost loved ones to the disease, Gabby Mason still is wrapping her head around the universal loosening of safety protocols as the pandemic enters a third year.

A 29-year-old single working mother whose 2-year-old attends a child development center at San Bernardino Valley College eight hours a day, the Yucaipa resident has kept her little one home for the better part of her young life and away from crowded public spaces.

Inoculating her daughter when possible is a priority, Mason said, for the “protective barrier” the vaccine provides against serious illness and hospitalization.

Until then, she waits.

As of Wednesday, March 16, more than 400 children up to age 4 have died from COVID-19, according to data the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention pulled from 780,705 deaths. That’s a higher death toll than for children between the ages 5 and 11, 12 and 15, and 16 and 17.

Additionally, for much of the past few months, CDC data show children up to 4 have been hospitalized at a higher rate than those between 5 and 11, an age group that became eligible for vaccination late last year.

“It’s the fear of the unknown,” said Mason, an endoscopy technician at Loma Linda University Surgical Hospital in San Bernardino County. “You never know what (the disease) will do to children, so you want to keep them as safe as you can.”

A pediatric COVID-19 vaccine has been promised for months, but after data culled from a two-shot study for 2- to 4-year-olds returned mixed results in December, Pfizer added a third jab to the series.

Last month, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and expert advisers were to review the drug maker’s findings to decide whether to authorize the two-shot regimen for children as Pfizer evaluated the third dose. But, as omicron ripped through the country early in the new year, the data changed, leading FDA officials to postpone that meeting to grant Pfizer officials more time to evaluate data.

Three-dose protection information is expected in early April.

Nevertheless, with recent case rates and hospitalizations falling from the startling highs reached in the winter, statewide masking requirements eased for much of population in February, regardless of vaccination status.

Yet, masking rules remained in schools.

Lori Bowen wears a mask as she teaches her fourth-grade class Monday, March 14, 2022, the first day without mask mandates at Brown Elementary School in San Bernardino. (File photo by Terry Pierson, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

Starting Monday, March 14, however, face coverings were not required by child care centers and preschools, schools and school districts. Moreover, there are plans to relax mask mandates on airplanes, buses and other mass transit in coming weeks.

Brownell, who teaches high school, will keep her mask on indoors and have her children do the same.

“I hope that people who are celebrating sending their kids to school maskless, as I know millions of California parents are, they think about the siblings of kids in their classes or the children of their teachers that are too young to be vaccinated,” Brownell said.

“As they’re celebrating sending their kids to school, I’ll fearfully be sending mine.”

Megan Goulding recently went maskless at her office for the first time in years, and with myriad safety protocols in place to offer as much protection as possible, “that was so nice to see people’s whole smiling faces,” she said.

“I really enjoyed it on one level,” the 36-year-old Long Beach mother added.

But, with her 18-month-old daughter still unprotected against COVID-19, “I will continue to have to weigh options of where I bring her.”

“A lot of people over the pandemic have had this decision matrix of how do I weigh this against a potential reward,” said Goulding, head of strategy and external relations for the USC Price Center for Social Innovation. “With people who are vaccinated, you don’t have to do that as much, but for little ones who aren’t, you still have to make a lot of decisions about what you’re willing to risk and not risk.”

Goulding, admittedly, assumes some risk in sending her daughter to daycare part time, but said having her be around others her age was vital to her development.

And, the safety measures in place there added a level of comfort.

“I don’t have a very specific fear of my daughter catching (COVID-19),” Goulding said. “It’s just that it’s new and scary and it’s unknown. I know that generally kids that get it have very mild symptoms, but still, nobody wants their kids to get it. Nobody wants to sign up for that.

“It’s hard to uncouple the fear and anxiety from the last few years,” Goulding added. “For those of us who became parents in the pandemic, it’s hard for it not to be scary with a newborn, then a baby.

“It’s hard to be super reasonable and logical sometimes.”

While frustration mounts as she waits to inoculate her two youngest, Brownell said her family has been anything but bored at home.

At least twice a month, Brownell throws a themed weekend extravaganza. Her family has play traveled to Hawaii and binged the entire “Harry Potter” and “Star Wars” movie series while immersing themselves in those respective universes.

Sidewalk chalk art sessions. Outside playtime. Walks to the beach.

“I’ve used my teacher creativity to entertain the heck out of them,” Brownell said. “Until (my children) can be vaccinated, our world looks the same. People want to make it seem like we’re living scared in a basement. We’re not scared of anything.

“We’re cognizant that we don’t want children to get a virus that’s completely possible to not get.”

With two years to develop and cultivate new daily routines and recreational habits, Goulding, for one, is accustomed to this new normal, even as others return to pre-pandemic lifestyles.

“I’m not sure we’re missing out on that much more by being cautious about where we go indoors now that the numbers are shifting,” she said. “It doesn’t feel like that big a sacrifice to me because there’s lots of other stuff we can do, other places we can go.

“When my daughter’s older, too,” she added, “we’ll spend time at a cool museum, indoors, unmasked. But that’s not for her right now. A lot of those things are just naturally down the road anyway, and hopefully we’ll be at a different time by then.”

Source: Orange County Register

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