TAMPA — As a hospital worker, Sandra Hobraczk was one of the first to get the COVID-19 vaccine back in January.
She couldn’t give her son the same protection until now.
Felipe Hobraczk spent the first seven weeks of his life in intensive care with underdeveloped lungs and a heart valve that surgeons needed to close. A severe COVID-19 infection and the heart inflammation that often accompanies it would be too much of a risk for the fourth-grader, his pediatrician said, forcing his parents to put him in virtual school.
Felipe missed birthday parties and playdates with friends. He briefly returned to in-person school in April when all students were wearing masks. But his parents pulled him out of summer programs and put him back in virtual school when the Pinellas School District ended its mask mandate in June, even as infections surged with the delta variant.
So it was a huge relief for parents Mark and Sandra Hobraczk when Felipe, 9, got his first COVID-19 shot at a CVS pharmacy in Palm Harbor on Wednesday.
“He is terrified of needles, but I can’t remember a day when he hasn’t asked us when the vaccine is coming,” said Mark Hobraczk.
Across Tampa Bay, parents are deciding whether to vaccinate their children as smaller dosages of the Pfizer vaccine earmarked for children 5 to 11 become available at pharmacies, grocery stores and doctor’s offices. Almost 45,000 Florida children got the shot last week when doses first arrived in the state, records show.
But a national survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation in October found that only 27 percent of parents are eager to get their young children vaccinated as soon as possible. One third of parents, in the poll of 1,519 adults, said they definitely would not vaccinate their children, citing possible long-term side-effects as their biggest concern.
A small number of people have been diagnosed with myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle, after receiving the vaccine. The risk appears highest for young adolescents and young-adult males, especially those 16 and up. The cases are rare and usually mild.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Food and Drug Administration and the American Academy of Pediatrics are among the groups recommending the shot for children. The groups say that the risk from COVID-19 — which can permanently damage the heart — far outweighs the risk of developing myocarditis from the shot.
The clinical trials of more than 3,000 children ages 5 to 11 produced no reports of myocarditis, according to the CDC.
Mark Hobraczk said he spoke to his sister, a medical researcher working on clinical trials at the University of South Florida, about myocarditis before making his decision.
“She was able to assure us that there were few of those cases related to the vaccine, and there had not been any in children,” he said.
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Still, Sarasota parent Kayla Cattoi feels it’s too soon to know if the vaccine is safe.
The mother of three children, ages 10, 6 and 2, got vaccinated this year. But she said she is worried there could be long-term side effects that have not yet come to light, and she isn’t prepared to expose her children to what she sees as a risk.
“If my kids had asthma, I would consider it,” she said. “They have really good health, so it’s never been on my radar.”
If the virus is still a risk in five years, she will likely get the shot for her kids, she said.
More than 2.1 million children ages 5 to 11 have tested positive for COVID-19 since the onset of the pandemic, according to CDC data. There have been almost 200 deaths.
Dennis Garcia, an optometrist in Land O’ Lakes, took his son Nathan Garcia, 5, to the local CVS for a shot on Friday.
His decision was not only about Nathan, he said, but also his daughter, who is a year old and not eligible for the vaccine. He also was thinking of Nathan’s grandparents — his son visits them every other weekend.
Garcia studied immunology during college and has read up on the virus and the vaccine, but admits he’s not an expert. He’s concerned at the amount of disinformation being spread.
“They play on doubts, and people don’t want to do it even though it’s killed 700,000 Americans,” he said. “People should listen to the experts.”
Navy First Class Petty Officer Ron Forster would like to get his 5-year-old daughter Georgia vaccinated.
But there are no child doses available at the health clinic at Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, where Forster, a former Tampa Bay resident, has served for two years as a paralegal.
He lives on the 6-square-mile base with his wife and two children. He jokes that the largely closed off base has been the perfect place to wait out a pandemic.
He and his wife are vaccinated, and he’s read reports on the vaccine’s effectiveness. He sees no reason for his daughter not to get the shot.
“We’ve never hesitated with vaccines before — our mindset was why would we hesitate with this one?” Forster said. “The government has a rigorous process they go through, and they won’t approve something willy-nilly.”
The family is scheduled to come to Tampa at the end of the month for a wedding. If child doses have not arrived at Guantanamo by then, Forster said he will take Georgia to a pharmacy.
“If you care about your child, you do what is best to protect them, and that’s getting them vaccinated,” he said.
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How to get vaccinated
The COVID-19 vaccine for ages 5 and up and booster shots for eligible recipients are being administered at doctors’ offices, clinics, pharmacies, grocery stores and public vaccination sites. Many allow appointments to be booked online. Here’s how to find a site near you:
Find a site: Visit vaccines.gov to find vaccination sites in your zip code.
More help: Call the National COVID-19 Vaccination Assistance Hotline.
Phone: 800-232-0233. Help is available in English, Spanish and other languages.
Disability Information and Access Line: Call 888-677-1199 or email DIAL@n4a.org.
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Tampa Bay Times coronavirus coverage
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