Georgia dad anxious for younger children to get COVID-19 vaccine

Adam and Louise Francois Watkins and their three children, who are 9, 11 and 13, have made it more than a year and a half without getting sick with COVID-19.

But, Monday, the Atlanta couple found themselves in the middle of their family's second close call with the virus in the last month.

"So this morning, I took all my kids to get COVID-tested," Francois Watkins says. "Because we were notified by their school our middle child, who is 11 and not quite old enough to get vaccinated, that he was a so-called 'close contact.'  So, it means he was exposed to someone who tested positive."

Family smiles and gestures at the camera while sitting at the counter of a Waffle House. The father is holding the camera and they have 3 children smiling between him and the mother, who is waving in the background.

Adam and Louise Francois Watkins of Atlanta plan to get their two younger children, ages 9 and 11, vaccinated against COVID-19 as soon as they are eligible. (Francois Watkins family photo)

Close calls like this are why Francois Watkins says he is excited about the news the Pfizer-BioNTech pediatric vaccine appears to be safe and effective in children as young as 5.

The US Food and Drug Administration still has to review the data and make a decision on whether to authorize the vaccine.

Francois Watkins plans to get their  2 younger children vaccinated as soon as possible, hopefully by the end of next month.

RELATED: Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine gets full FDA approval

"We want to get that clock ticking, where they can get their first shot and then wait their 3 weeks and get their second shot," Francois Watkins says.

Pediatrician Dr. Jennifer Shu with Children's Medical Group in Atlanta says she's hopeful the FDA will authorize the Pfizer vaccine for children ages 5 to 11 by the end of next month, just in time for the winter flu and respiratory virus season.

Shu says all of the parents she has spoken with are eager to get their elementary school-age children vaccinated.

Still, she knows some parents have questions about vaccinating their younger children.

"Talk to your pediatrician to get the best guidance and the most up-to-date research," Dr. Shu says. "The second thing, is, we know from almost all vaccines, if there are going to be side effects, they're going to show up in the first few weeks. Almost 6 billion doses of the COVID vaccines have been given worldwide, and we're still seeing that it is more serious or severe or dangerous to actually get COVID itself than to get the vaccine."

Shu says the delta variant has led many more children to become infected.

While children make up 22% of the US population, she says, they now make up 29% of new COVID-19 cases, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

"Luckily, serious infections in kids are not as common as in adults," Dr. Shu says.  "So, we're seeing COVID hospitalizations happen in less than 5% of kids with COVID, and the deaths are rare, but they're not zero."

Shu is also concerned about possible long-term complications in children who are infected with the virus, like long COVID.

She has young patients who lost their sense of taste and smell more than a year ago and still have not regained it, she says.

Once his younger children are fully vaccinated, Adam Francois Watkins feels like he will finally be able to relax.

"We've gone this far," he says,  "We're so close. Let's get them vaccinated, and hopefully we can beat this and finally get back to normal."

The family got its COVID-10 test results back Monday afternoon.

They are all negative, Francois Watkins says.

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