I have watched from afar as friends, neighbors and family members receive their vaccines, and liked all their "Vaccinated" posts on Facebook and Instagram. I've even helped family members schedule their vaccines. But I've done it all a little begrudgingly, because although President Biden announced the US should have enough COVID-19 vaccine for all adults by the end of May, it feels unfair to make parents continue to wait.
I believe parents should be prioritized in the COVID-19 vaccine rollout. Call me impatient, but I want to be vaccinated already. I am ready to navigate California's vaccine-scheduling system, drive to a theme park turned vaccine site, roll up my sleeve, and get immunized with any of the FDA-approved COVID-19 vaccines.
And I've been ready. Unfortunately, my state has not opened vaccine eligibility up to everyone as only individuals in Phase 1A and 1B, which includes healthcare workers, long-term center residents, childcare providers, emergency service workers, older adults age 65 and older, and educators, are eligible for the vaccine. Beginning March 15, the rollout will expand to include those ages 16 to 64 who are considered high risk for death from COVID-19. These Americans should be first in line for the vaccine. I only wished that parents were also viewed as an essential piece of the getting-the-economy-back-to-normal puzzle.
Parents should be prioritized in the COVID-19 rollout for several reasons.
Parents are caretakers. As a millennial mom to three young children, I am part of the so-called sandwich generation. Before the pandemic, moms in this generation between the ages of 35 to 54 were feeling more stress than any other age group, with nearly 40% reporting extreme levels of stress, according to the American Psychological Association's 2007 Stress in America survey. Fast forward 13 years, toss in caregiving responsibilities with virtual learning and mix in an unstable economy and a highly transmissible virus, and parents of the sandwich generation are feeling all the effects of this pandemic.
Those living in multigenerational households and caring for aging parents are not deemed essential workers, but they should be. At one point during the pandemic, my husband and I had to discuss if my mom should move in with another family member to keep her safe. Our fear was the kids would contract COVID from school and unknowingly infect her, or one of us would catch the virus while at the market and bring it home. As members of the sandwich generation, many of us are faced with protecting not only our children from COVID, but also our aging parents. We are essential caregivers and should be given priority for the vaccine.
Parents are around children all the time. And now that many working moms and dads are working remotely, we are with our children more than ever before. I can't even take a shower without my 8-year-old daughter coming in to chat while I wash off the stress of the day. My 5-month old nurses on demand, and my 6-year-old relies on snuggles to get through virtual school. It's this constant closeness that led me to have a small panic attack when the girls started their school's in-person hybrid model. I wasn't sure how to keep all of us safe from COVID. If they caught the virus at school they would bring it home to me, my husband, the baby, or my mom. My fear was the girls would be asymptomatic and pass the virus to my mom or their younger brother. Studies reporting children rarely infect one another or adults with COVID-19 have helped to ease my anxiety—but just barely. If we want to stop the spread amongst family members then parents need to be vaccinated.
That constant contact with kids also plays into parents' role in the reopening of schools. Every parent is dreaming about the day we can safely send our children to school and spend six hours focused on work or anything that needs our full attention at home. But before that happens, several mitigation strategies should be implemented according to a report published by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Aside from practicing social distancing, masking and sticking to a hybrid model, COVID-19 community transmission numbers need to be considered before schools welcome students back to class. A CDC report found high community rates of the virus results in an increased likelihood that COVID will be introduced, and likely transmitted in schools. Any parent-child COVID transmission happening at home affects the school community. Vaccinating parents will assist in keeping community transmission numbers low, which will help reopen schools quickly and safely. Additionally, vaccinating parents will help keep educators, childcare workers, and school staff safe.
Parents need to be vaccinated to get back to work. Low-income and working-class moms have been hit the hardest by the pandemic. If parents are to get back to work, they need to not only have childcare and schools reopened, but they need to be protected. As states open up, and businesses look to call employees back to the office, there must be reassurances that this can be done safely. Managers who allowed employees to work from home at the start of the pandemic will soon have to determine how to safely bring employees back into the office. Parents working outside the home should be prioritized for the vaccines to keep working moms and dads safe from potentially catching the virus at work and bringing it home, and vice versa.
A bonus to prioritizing parents for the COVID-19 vaccines is the effect it will have on their mental health. Being vaccinated can alleviate a portion of the stress and anxiety that parents are experiencing as they try to balance keeping everyone safe from COVID, maintaining productivity at work, and caring for older family members. While there are numerous benefits to letting parents get vaccinated sooner than others, there is no sign that parents will be prioritized for the vaccine.
Parents must be considered essential in our society, and their health and safety prioritized.