Light at the End of the Tunnel 

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In May, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines for children as young as 12 years old. This was a big step in the U.S. vaccination efforts and as another crucial step in ending the grip of the pandemic on our society. 

“We all have family members that we care about, especially the young ones,” said Dr. Robert Martinez, who serves as Doctors Hospital at Renassaince’s chief physician executive and chief medical officer. “Despite hearing ‘they don’t get the disease or they don’t get sick,’ when it’s your child, it’s as important as anything else. I think peace of mind is important for everyone. We know that children can be spreaders of the disease, they can harbor the disease, they can carry it, and they can transmit it.”

Martinez reiterated that even children can get severe cases of COVID-19 or post-COVID complications. 

“Some children do get sick and develop devastating after effects,” he said. “There have been disorders and syndromes that render these kids really sick and some of them die and we want to avoid that, if possible, and this vaccine gives us the ability to do that safely.”

The availability of vaccines for youths aligns perfectly with the end of the school year. He mentioned how during school months it might be difficult to find time to schedule and get a shot. Now, with children out of class, it should be possible and not have to worry about missing anything with potential side effects.

“The immunity builds in such a way that if you get your vaccine in the summer, by fall, those folks should be well immune and safe from COVID,” Martinez said. 

Children pose a unique risk, he added.

“Kids this age, they’re hard to control. They’re not going to tell you something sometimes,” he said. “They’re less clear, they’re not really paying attention to what they’re doing, playing in each other’s faces a lot of the time. That’s a reason why it’s so important to vaccinate them. Then they can get back to their normal lives, concentrating on school and building relationships with their friends.”

As of early June, the RGV was ahead of the state average when it comes to the vaccination rate at 55%. Dr. Martinez said the 12-year-old to 16-year-old age group could play a big role in getting the rate up toward immunity and dramatic decrease in spread. 

“Even though this age group makes up about 15% of the population, this might be the 15% that gets us over the hump from 60 to 65% to 80 to 85%,” he said. “That’s when you start talking about a good herd immunity number when people can start to feel better and go out and enjoy a regular life without something devastating potentially happening. They’re an important part of the mix.”

DHR has been instrumental in the vaccine efforts. It was the first institution to offer mass vaccination clinics and has continued that momentum months after the first shots. 

“We really looked at a big problem here and the only way we were going to be able to get this better and out of the way is if we put our heads down [and went to work],” Martinez said. “We were vaccinating not just this county but everyone in the region so they could feel better about moving around and doing what they need to do.” 

The veteran doctor left a message and reminder about the importance of public health and community preparedness for the future. 

“A lot of our students, a lot of our physicians learned a lot about this segment of emergency pandemic response,” Martinez said. “Public health and getting everybody from county to cities to the state to care about public health. They see how important public response is. They need to start thinking when they are budgeting about these programs and public health and how important these things will be the next time — and there will be a next time — in getting our community to feel safe.” 

Nathaniel Mata