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What if parents are divided on vaccinating the kids?

Posted at 4:59 PM, Sep 20, 2021

CLEVELAND — As divisive as the COVID-19 vaccines have been for adults across the country, it can be an even more heated debate over vaccinating our children. With Pfizer gearing up to submit its vaccine for Emergency Use Authorization from the FDA for kids ages 5-11 in the coming weeks, we can expect to continue to see vaccinations as a polarizing issue.

In August, a Kaiser Family Foundationpoll found 41% of parents with kids ages 12-17 had vaccinated their children and 6% planned to do so right away. There's more hesitancy with kids under 12, with 26% of respondents saying they'd vaccinate their child right away while 40% are going for a 'wait and see' approach. Another quarter said they would "definitely not" vaccinate their child against COVID-19.

In some cases, that divide is playing out in the same household.

We asked Professor of Law and Bioethics at the Case Western Reserve University School of Law Sharona Hoffman how divided parents can navigate this heated issue. She was optimistic we can all be civilized and behave like adults.

“Hopefully you’ve had other disputes before that you’ve learned how to resolve and you can talk about it calmly in the same way,” she said.

Hoffman suggested parents sit down together to make a list of pros and cons and consider what’s in the best interest of the child. You could even get that child involved in the conversation, and reach out to your doctor or clergy to help you sort the issue out. If you and your spouse just can’t get on the same page, some parents may be ready to take drastic measures.

“If one parent takes the child to be vaccinated, I doubt the pharmacist is going to ask for any proof that the other parent is on board,” Hoffman said.

The only legal consequence you may face, she said, is the potential for a divorce. Couples who are already divorced can turn to their custody agreement, which should “have some language as to who is to make medical decisions,” she explained.

There could be a future where this decision is out of parents’ hands. Hoffman predicts the COVID-19 shot could be added to the list of vaccines mandated for public schools, depending on what’s going on with the pandemic in the country if or when the FDA gives its full approval.

Speaking about the heated and divisive nature of the vaccine debate, Hoffman said, “it’s very sad to me and it’s sort of incomprehensible.” She pointed out that the vaccine was developed under Republican President Donald Trump through Operation Warp Speed.

“It’s thanks to Trump that we have the vaccine. I wish people internalized that. He has said on camera, you should get the vaccine. He’s said he’s gotten the vaccine,” she said. “I don’t really understand, with a deadly disease, why it has become so politicized and people are willing to give up their lives in order not to get the vaccine. It’s very depressing.”

No matter how you approach the topic in a divided home, remember your children are watching and learning from your example.

"It can be very, very damaging to a child to see parents arguing, especially about a matter that could be life and death for the child,” she said.

Visit our Vaccinating Ohio page for the latest updates on Ohio's vaccination program, including links to sign up for a vaccine appointment, a map of nearby vaccination sites, a detailed breakdown of the state's current vaccine phase, and continuing local coverage of COVID-19 vaccines in Northeast Ohio.

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