How Best To Deal With Covid-19’s Impact On Children - Honolulu Civil Beat

About the Author

Heather Goff

Heather Goff is a child and adolescent psychiatrist at Kaiser Permanente Hawaii in Wailuku, Maui.

The last two years have been hard on all of us.

As Hawaii grapples with yet another Covid-19 spike, it’s especially important to recognize how aspects of the pandemic fall on our children — not only the physical stress of infection or the well-documented epidemic of loneliness affecting so many young people today, but also the (often-overlooked) emotional toll on children who have lost a parent, grandparent or other caregiver to Covid-19.

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A recent study published in the peer-reviewed journal Pediatrics found that in the three months from April through June of this year, more than 140,000 children in the United States experienced the death of a parent or grandparent caregiver due to Covid-19. The consequences of such a loss can be enormous, including mental health problems like depression, eating disorders and substance abuse, as well as long-term social problems like housing instability, poor nutrition and poverty.

In my own practice as a child and adolescent psychiatrist, I am seeing the impact of these losses more and more often: the high school senior who had a 4.0 GPA and was in the midst of applying for college scholarships, but now hasn’t been to school more than a handful of times since his grandmother died of Covid in September; the middle school student who developed depression and an eating disorder after her auntie passed away last year; the 7-year-old boy who suddenly and seemingly out of the blue became oppositional and argumentative at school, and then his teacher learns that his auntie has been hospitalized for the last month.

Much of this suffering is preventable — though prevention requires a shift in thinking. I often speak with individuals who are struggling with decisions about Covid-19 vaccination. These are highly emotional decisions, particularly where our children are concerned. I find it helps to think about vaccination as a matter that affects the whole family — a decision about the ohana, rather than just any one individual family member.

According to current research, the risk of serious illness and death from Covid-19 in young children is believed to be lower than it is among older adults. For that reason, some parents weigh the decision about vaccinating their young children differently than the decision about vaccinating themselves, other adult family members, or even their teenaged children.

Dose #1 of Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine in syringes during press event held at Queen's Medical Center. December 15, 2020
Postponing and avoiding vaccination decisions will only make matters worse for families, the author says. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2020

Yet despite this lower risk in young kids, it is also important to recognize that the highly contagious omicron variant can very quickly spread from asymptomatic children to other family members, for whom the risk of serious illness and death are greater.

These are difficult decisions. As a physician, I took an oath to first do no harm — and yet when encountering circumstances like those we find ourselves in today, figuring out exactly what that means can be tricky.

Vaccination isn’t just about protecting the individual.

The number of children orphaned by Covid-19 is accelerating, and with it, the potential for serious mental health consequences. Postponing and avoiding vaccination decisions will only make matters worse. For the sake of our children, we cannot allow fear to prevent us from taking action.

Rather, we must engage in conversations about vaccination with the people we trust: our families and our health care providers. And in doing so, we must gather the courage to ask the unthinkable — what would the impact be on my child if she should lose her parent, grandparent or other caregiver to Covid-19?

Vaccination isn’t just about protecting the individual; it’s about protecting our families, protecting the physical and emotional well-being of all the people close to us — from the oldest to the youngest, and everyone in between.

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About the Author

Heather Goff

Heather Goff is a child and adolescent psychiatrist at Kaiser Permanente Hawaii in Wailuku, Maui.

Latest Comments (0)

Loved paragraphs 1-3.  Wished you would've stuck with what the title implied. · 9 months ago

I'm confused - this article seems to imply that vaccinating our children will stop them from transmitting the virus to the rest of us, but the current CDC page says, "CDC expects that anyone with Omicron infection can spread the virus to others, even if they are vaccinated or don’t have symptoms."  This is based on what they learned from how effective Delta was at spreading, even among the vaccinated, and comparing to Omicron.  Also, the numbers coming from the mainland are interesting, but what are our numbers?  If we know what the excess mortality rate here is, we know that it's mostly adults, and it can at least give us an idea of what might be the increase in how many parents or grandparents have passed away...

sunu · 9 months ago

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