Jessica Merricks, assistant professor of biology, discusses how the approval of the Pfizer-BioTech COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 5 through 11 is helping professors with young kids feel safer being back in person. Through her own experience as a professor and a parent this is a personal issue for her.

Jessica Merricks, assistant professor of biology.
How has it been being back in person teaching this year with your kid not being able to be vaccinated?

She's five and she started kindergarten this year, which was a big source of stress for both me and my husband. She was in daycare before starting school and it was a very small group and they were in person but it was like I said, very much a nuclear group. So, we felt pretty comfortable with her being at school going every day. She wasn't around a lot of different people. 

“This shifted, her being in school, like in a big elementary school, with lots of teachers and  moving around and stuff gave us a little bit of stress. But honestly, we've been pretty lucky. We haven't had any major challenges. The only real sort of difference now is she got a cold a couple of weeks ago and that becomes a huge deal. So I had to miss work … and  it's not like, you just sit for a couple days and then you get to go back. You got to go get tested, and it's just a whole process. 

“There's been some disruption just due to the new policies that are in place to keep everybody safe. This time of year everybody's getting colds and that's what she had. But, everything kind of gets treated the same way right now just to be safe. So a little bit of disruption in terms of work and some anxiety around her being around lots of people, but it's been OK.”

How do you see the vaccine rollout affecting your kid?

We're gonna get her vaccinated. That's a definite thing that will happen. I think it just depends. When I look at the community that we live in, there are a lot of parents that have been waiting for this, because I think it gives us all a peace of mind that we all feel better about sending our kids to school, knowing that they have this extra protection. So I'm excited about it.”

Have you spoken with other faculty at Elon who have kids that are affected by this?

“We chat about it in our departments and my friends on campus that have kids and for the most part, I get the sense that the Elon faculty is grateful for the opportunity to finally be able to vaccinate this group. When it came out for the older kids, I know lots of Elon faculty ran and got them signed up to get their shots. And I think it's a similar situation with the younger kids, especially now that we know that there are some not so great effects of COVID with little ones. So even though little ones that have gotten COVID get over it pretty quickly, but we know that there are some kind of lingering impacts. A lot of faculty on campus have been more concerned about that, and so getting the vaccine seems to be pretty important to people.” 

What do you expect to see happen with COVID vaccinations nationwide as children are now able to become vaccinated? Do you think there will be any hesitancy from parents? 

Yeah, I think the last survey I read said something like the nation was broken up into thirds, right, a third of parents are like, absolutely. Another third is like, well, let's wait and see how it goes, and another third is like absolutely not. I don't think it's going to be that much different than the general population. Parents are nervous because it's new, and that's what happens when things are new. So I would love to say that I think all parents are going to jump and get the vaccine but that's not gonna happen.”

How does this new eligibility for kids back to 11 change your comfort level regarding COVID regarding socializing?

It's a big deal for us. We have plans to travel for Thanksgiving and knowing that Maya has been vaccinated means that I can stress a little bit less going around different people getting on a plane. In the same way that I felt a big weight off my shoulders when I got vaccinated, I'm gonna feel so much better knowing that she has that extra protection.” 

How has this year felt for you compared to last year, 2020, in regards to you and your family safety and comfort level with being back around other people?

I think generally we have started to feel a little bit more relaxed this year. You know, my husband and I are both vaccinated. Our circle of family and friends is vaccinated. So that has allowed us to do a lot more than we were able to do last year, which is great. But there are still certain things that we don't do, and because Maya isn't vaccinated, there are still certain things that we don't feel all that comfortable doing. So we're looking forward to those sorts of things, being able to go to places with large crowds and going back to doing those types of big community gatherings. That'll be something we're looking forward to and we'll be able to do once she's vaccinated.”

Do you think that the plan that the White House currently has for the vaccine rollout will be successful in getting people to get vaccinated?

“It depends on how you define successful. I think that the efforts that are being put in place are great. There's a shot available for every child in this country. We are lucky that we have that. We're lucky that we have the resources available. There's only so much we can do to get people to take advantage of it. So I don't know if 100% of that responsibility falls on our governments, they prove they're providing this resource, they're providing the education about how important it is to get it done, I'm excited that they're available. 

“I think that the timing is good, especially because the research shows, just like last year, the holiday season brings spikes. So I think the timing couldn't be more perfect for people to get their kids vaccinated before Thanksgiving and Christmas. I'm happy with the way that things have been going.”

Is there anything else that you would like to add that I didn't mention?

Other than the fact that I think that there's a little bit of hesitancy because of the emergency use authorization of the vaccine, which was the same with the one for adults, I think a lot of people are nervous about the fact that it doesn't have full FDA approval — and that's understandable. But at the same time, I hope that doesn't stop people from getting their kids vaccinated, especially if they are planning on traveling or being around large groups of people. It's just not worth the risk, in my opinion, and there's a really good chance that it's going to get fully approved. So because of where we are in the calendar, I would not risk waiting.”