Q&A - COVID: What's Next?

Dr. Dan Fulton, McFarland Clinic infectious disease specialist, has been our go-to expert during the COVID-19 pandemic. In town hall meetings and one-on-one conversations, his thoughtfully delivered insights have helped many navigate the challenges of the past 18 months. We turn to him once again for an update on current COVID issues, including vaccines for kids.

Dr Fulton, wearing a mask, talking with a patient in their hospital room.Kids aged 5 to 11 can now get the vaccine. What is your advice for parents who are considering getting their youngsters vaccinated for COVID-19?

I would encourage parents to seek out trusted, reliable sources. Talk to your pediatrician. Get information from places like Mayo Clinic, the American Pediatric Association, or the CDC. Your personal doctor is responsible to you and has a real relationship with you. This isn’t some random person in the middle of nowhere who put a video on the Internet. Your health and wellness is your doctor’s primary interest, and they have to look you in the eye when giving advice. 

This is an exciting new step in our fight against COVID. It is going to play a significant role in the health of our kids, as well as from a public health standpoint. Anyone can get COVID, but vaccinating kids is one more way to break another link in that chain. Every break can stop the spread of future disease.

COVID is the eighth leading cause of death for this age group, and it is preventable. While kids generally don’t get that sick from COVID-19, hundreds have died in the last year and a half.

As a parent, I don’t want my kids to get sick, and if one gets it the rest likely will. I don’t want my 10-year-old to bring it home to my 1-year-old twins. The vaccines have been shown to be very safe. Side effects are rare and, when they do happen, are typically mild. Companies have tried to mitigate side effects by decreasing the pediatric vaccine dose. When we’re training the immune system, we want to give just enough that it responds to the invader but doesn’t overreact.

So, your kids will be getting the vaccine?

My 12-year-old already has, and my 10-year-old and 6-year-old will. They are excited because they know this is their opportunity to join this effort and help get us to where we aren’t talking about and worrying about COVID all the time. My 10-year-old cheered when she heard the news.

You’ve done several well-received town halls during the course of the pandemic. More recently, you’ve been talking one-on-one with people who haven’t gotten vaccinated yet. What has that experience been like and what are you learning?

There is a diverse group of people who so far have chosen not to be vaccinated. We need to extend people some grace. I have been listening to their concerns and sharing perspectives that are meaningful. 

If you can establish a mutual and caring relationship, and take the opportunity to really hear each other, you can break down a lot of initial barriers that can exist in this social media age. It becomes easier to connect on a real level.

Concerns I’ve heard primarily revolve around the unknown and uncertainty. People want to be assured that there won’t be unexpected consequences to being vaccinated.

If a person hasn’t had someone impacted by COVID or work in healthcare, they might not have seen the terrible things we have over the past year and a half. Sharing those experiences and listening helps. 

So where are we now with COVID-19? Mary Greeley has seen a reduction in cases over the past few weeks. Are we out of the woods?

We have a second wave of COVID that started in late summer. While we had fewer patients than the previous wave, I wouldn’t say this recent wave wasn’t as bad. Our ICU patients were here longer and many of them were younger and should have been at lower risk, but not all of them have survived. That’s been incredibly hard for everyone.

The higher percentage of vaccinated people helps reduce risk in the community. This will impact the frequency and size of any waves we see in the future. We will have some amount of COVID that circulates like any other respiratory disease and there may be some seasonality to it. 

We can’t let our guard down. There is some uncertainty about what winter will bring. We might get through it without another wave, but there is a risk of a wave with RSV or influenza on top of it.

Some people will say I’ve had enough and just want to live my life. I get that, but I hope they have been vaccinated and that the people around them have as well. The most tragic thing of all is we’ve had the opportunity to prevent the infection with the vaccine. We are responsible to each other to create an ecosystem that is safe for all of us.