U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy's reflections after daughter, 4, tests positive for COVID hit home with parents

·8 min read
Parents hoping for a COVID vaccine for their young children are responding to U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy's tweet about his daughter's recent coronavirus diagnosis. (Photo: Getty Creative)
Parents hoping for a COVID vaccine for their young children are responding to U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy's tweet about his daughter's recent coronavirus diagnosis. (Photo: Getty Creative)

Earlier this month, parents collectively breathed sighs of relief knowing there was possibility of a COVID-19 vaccine becoming available for children between 6 months and 5 years old by the end of February.

But on Feb. 11, Pfizer pulled its application to the Food and Drug Administration for the vaccine, renewing anxious and hopeless feelings for the caregivers of the youngest population. The pharmaceutical company hopes to be able to resubmit its application once additional data is available, tentatively sometime in April.

Meanwhile, on Feb. 16, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy announced via Twitter that his 4-year-old daughter had tested positive for COVID-19 and was resting at home.

"She's had a fever and sore throat and she isn't her usual bubbly self," Murthy said in the post. "But thankfully she is eating, drinking and breathing fine."

Murthy stated at the end of the post that his worries had prompted a bit of reflection, which he shared details about in a thread below his tweet. Parents and others had plenty of feedback, with moms and dads of children under 5 seeming to recognize many of his concerns, including thoughts about the challenges of keeping a sick child isolated and the difficulties of pandemic parenting.

Isolating younger children from the rest of the family is near impossible

Murthy noted that trying to keep his daughter away from her 5-year-old brother and parents is difficult, the only consolation being that their three other household members are vaccinated. "Even if we contract the virus, it's unlikely to cause severe illness because we have protection," he explained.

Many parents replied to Murthy sharing their own stories about whether or not they isolated their kids who came down with coronavirus.

"When my unvaccinated 12-year-old daughter got COVID four weeks ago we had family movie night and sat together on the couch with her unvaccinated 10-year-old brother," shared one Twitter user. "We all got it. We all were sick for a few days. It was all fine."

Ashley Lang, a mom from Fort Mill, S.C., was the first in her family to feel sick and end up with a positive COVID-19 test. As a single parent, it simply wasn't possible to quarantine herself from her five children. Her 3 year old was next to get sick with mild symptoms: She tested positive along with one of her siblings.

Lang says she felt frustrated during her family's illness. "We stayed home, knowing that while the kids didn't feel bad, they could still spread the virus," Lang tells Yahoo Life. "But it's hard being isolated with this many children."

Parents of higher-risk children have more to worry about

Murthy said parents of higher-risk children, especially those with autoimmune diseases who are more susceptible to COVID-19, are deeply troubled. According to Murthy, the best way to keep those children safe is for more people to get vaccinated. "I wish a vaccine was available for my child and for all kids [under] 5," he wrote. "Unfortunately more data is still needed from clinical trials for the FDA to make a full assessment."

"The more we all get vaccinated and take precautions," he added, "the more we can protect all our kids."

Lang says at the time her children got sick, the virus was spreading rapidly in her area and the potential of a vaccine for small children was barely a glimmer, so she didn't give vaccination much thought.

"None of my children are high-risk," she says. "What I was grateful for was that I was able to stay home with them while we all went through it. There are huge disparities in how COVID-19 affects Americans: Instead of having to worry about bills, I was able to focus solely on their health."

Twitter users can relate. "My heart is heavy for all the parents trying to navigate life around COVID," wrote one. "Especially the single parent and dual working parent households — it's hard on a good day, it's a struggle in a pandemic."

Video: How strong is your immunity against omicron?

While Pfizer waits for data on a three-dose regimen, Moderna says they are also making progress in trials for a vaccine for children between 2 and 5 years old. Some parents cited this fact when responding to Murthy's tweet.

Still, some parents are desperate for something faster. "I also hope that you will strongly advocate for kids under 5 to have immediate access to [a] vaccine that we know is safe and can provide a layer of protection," tweeted one user.

Parenting during the pandemic is hard, even for the Surgeon General

As he wrapped up his comments, Murthy stated that parenting during the pandemic "has been one of the hardest jobs [he] could have imagined."

"I have immense respect for the millions of parents who are grappling with the daily exhausting decision-making that goes into protecting our kids' health and their education," he wrote.

And like all parents, Murthy shared concerns about whether or not he could have done more to prevent his child's illness.

"Staring at my daughter's positive test, I asked myself the same questions many parents have asked," Murthy admitted. "Will my child be ok? Could I have done more to protect her? Was this my fault?"

Some parents were quick to sympathize and show support.

"My children are older and vaccinated but early on the decisions about school, sports and play were all excruciating." wrote one. "A tad easier now, but I feel for parents with kids under 5 ... hang in there."

Julie Levine, a mom from Orlando, Fla., says one of her biggest pandemic-related hurdles is that her 2 year old refuses to keep her mask on for long periods of time. "It has significantly limited the activities we do with our children," she says. "It's a risk we won't take with her, so we skip these activities that we did with our first child [before the pandemic]. It feels limiting and like we are missing out on making memories we looked forward to with our second child."

Levine also says she is unwilling to travel with her toddler until she is vaccinated, "especially with her spotty mask adherence."

"Vaccines aren't foolproof, but they greatly reduce hospitalization and death," says Levine. "That's why I want one for my toddler. Our personal world would open up again."

Murthy closed his post with some other relatable thoughts.

"In these moments, it doesn't matter if you're a doctor or Surgeon General. We are parents first," he wrote. "The experience of the last few days has reminded me that despite our varied opinions about the pandemic, we all largely want the same thing: to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe."

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