If we’re being honest, a lot of us have given up on worrying about COVID. Much of this stems from fatigue (we hear you), but also the fact that cases are no longer surging. Or at least it seems that way.
COVID cases are rising across America and, experts warn, are likely widely underreported due to a combination of home testing and vaccinated individuals riding out milder infections. The good news is that hospitalizations and deaths are way down — a combination of the BA.5 variant being less likely to cause severe disease and a large chunk of the population being vaccinated. The bad news is that letting our guard down keeps the virus alive and well. Furthermore, despite the proven efficacy and safety of the COVID-19 vaccine, the majority of parents say they won’t get their children under 5 vaccinated. That’s a problem with school season right around the corner and so many of us eager to gather again, mask-free in crowded school gatherings.
So what’s a parent to do? Throw caution to the wind and live it up while we can? Or do we cancel end-of-summer vacation out of an abundance of caution? And how do you ease your child’s anxiety about COVID and every other disease they’re hearing about as they’re thrown back into school — many without masks?
Fatherly sat down with Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff and Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy to answer parents’ questions about the state of COVID-19 pandemic. Here’s what they said.
Should I wait until my kid is 5 to get the vaccine?
Doug Emhoff: No. They need to get vaccinated now. The CDC, the Surgeon General's Office, have all determined that the vaccinations are safe, they're effective, and there's no reason to wait.
BA.5. seems more mild. Can’t we drop our guard a little?
Dr. Vivek Murthy: Well, I wouldn't necessarily state that the BA.5 variant is more mild. In fact, what we've learned is that BA.5 is among the most contagious of the variants that we've seen to date. It spreads really, really easily, which is one of the reasons why you're seeing so many people get infected.
And keep in mind that what we've seen with COVID-19, that it's not just the worst outcomes that we worry about, in terms of people being hospitalized with severe illness and people dying from this virus, but we also know that COVID affects so many organ systems in the body, can cause complications with the kidneys, with the lungs, with your heart, with your nervous system, and on and on the list goes. We have so many people who are also struggling with something called long COVID, which is when you have symptoms that last for a long time after you have the initial infection itself, and young people have been impacted by this as well.
So the bottom line is, BA.5 is nothing to sneeze at. It's nothing to take lightly. COVID, if it's taught us anything, it's that it's a significant foe, but the good news is that we've got the tools to fight it, and those are our vaccines and the new treatments that we have for COVID-19. We just have to make sure we're using them, and using them wisely.
Do you have any advice for making kids less anxious about viruses?
Doug Emhoff: Yeah, I think part of the job as a parent is to just be there for your children, and I know we've both tried to do that in our jobs here in the administration. As I said earlier, I look at all these things through the lens of being a parent myself, and when the vaccines first came out, I had these conversations with Cole and Ella, my children, our children, and I made the same case to them that I made throughout the year-plus as second gentleman, that these vaccinations work, they're safe, they're effective, they're easy to get, and the technology was years in the making. They didn't just fall out of the sky, and it's the best, if not only way to prevent serious illness or death when you've got COVID.
Dr. Vivek Murthy: I understand, I think, why kids would be scared. It's also why it's so important, though, for us to let children know that we're in a different place now than we were two-and-a-half years ago when this pandemic began, that we not only understand this virus together, but we've got these tools, these really important tools like vaccines and treatments, that have allowed us to save so many lives. So thankfully now, if somebody gets COVID-19 after having been fully vaccinated, and if they're up to date with their vaccines, their likelihood of having a serious outcome is really, really low, thankfully.
Well, I think you're looking at two parents here who travel a lot, and one of the reasons that we feel comfortable with traveling is because, again, thankfully we have ways as a society, to keep ourselves safer when it comes to COVID-19. I think if you're going to travel, and many people think, "Hey, I might be exposed to other people. Maybe I'll get COVID. What should I do?" Well, the good news is that if you make sure that you're fully up to date with your vaccines before you travel, again, your likelihood of getting seriously ill is going to be much, much lower. If you're aware of the treatments that are available for COVID-19, like Paxlovid as one example, and if you do get sick, you can make sure to talk to your doctor, to go to a pharmacy, and then get the treatment that you need, especially if you're at higher risk.
So the bottom line is we are in a place now where we can resume a lot of the things that we were doing before. And this is what we wanted. We wanted to be able to manage this pandemic and get back our lives.
What part of parenting is hardest in this moment in the pandemic for you?
Doug Emhoff: Well, parenting's always hard, I have to say, and even, and my kids are in their 20s now, and I've said I've had to up my parent game, so they still need you no matter how old they are. We talk a lot, Dr. Murthy and I, about mental health, and I think that's one of the things that parents need to have a keen eye for. Look for signs, because we know a lot of young people have really struggled during COVID, and the isolation, social media, all the things that they've experienced as we're coming out of it. It's been incredibly hard on young people, so I would just ask all the parents out there to just ask, "How’re you doing?" And for the children to be OK to not only talk about it, but it's OK to ask for help. It's OK to ask for help before it's too late.