Photo by Allison Shelley for EDUimages

Last week as I excitedly told my 6- and 3-year-old daughters that my husband and I had been able to schedule COVID-19 vaccination appointments for ourselves, my older daughter said quickly, urgently, and loudly, “What about us??”. What an honest and gutting question. What about them and all of the other children who cannot yet get vaccine protection against COVID-19? Her question was more significant to me than to her, but she is well-aware of the pandemic and our path out of it. And she wants to be on that path, too.

Children have carried some of the heaviest burdens during this pandemic. They have endured school and child care closures; increases in mental health needs; parent deaths; increased poverty; and rising hunger. It is time for us to stand up for them. We must ensure that they too are able to benefit from a safe and effective vaccine and an organized, accessible system for distributing it.

Twenty percent of adults say they will only get vaccinated if it is required, or that they will “definitely not” get vaccinated. This attitude shifts the burden of reaching herd immunity to our children, who will need exceptionally high rates of vaccination to make up for adults who choose not to get a vaccine. It is extremely unfair — and irresponsible — to let the choices of adults imperil the lives of our children. Children will now have to be key to our efforts of reaching herd immunity. The federal government must devise a vaccination rollout plan to meet children’s specific needs, and it must do it now.

The challenges of vaccinating children will be different from the challenges of vaccinating adults, and we therefore need a plan tailor-made for children. These challenges include distribution methods and locations in order to reach all children, vaccine-hesitant caregivers, racial inequities in vaccine distribution and use, and the perception that COVID-19 does not affect children. Overcoming these challenges will require adequate and planned funding, an effective distribution process, and a public education campaign.

We look forward to the time when all children can return in-person to school and their lives can regain a sense of normalcy. In order to ensure that happens, the federal government must prepare now for the vaccine that will eventually be available for children and determine how to distribute it equitably and effectively. Only then will we have an answer to the question, “What about us?”