(Bloomberg) — The wave of relief is so strong you can almost hear a collective exhale across the country. With the prospect of a Covid vaccine for young kids edging closer, many US parents are ready for a long-awaited return to normalcy — whatever that means to them two years into a pandemic.
One Colorado mom said she’s looking forward to her toddler playing with other kids indoors when it’s cold out. A California dad said he may feel better about having his 20-month-old daughter travel to meet family for the first time. A Pennsylvania mom said she’ll finally be able to make trips to the grocery store with her son in tow without having to think twice. And one Oregon father said he won’t be terrified every time his 18-month-old son gets a runny nose from day care.
For lots of families, feeling better about child care could be the most important change. Some working parents would feel more comfortable about putting their young children into day care, while others are hopeful the shots will mean fewer hassles with quarantines and disruptions to the child care they already have. More consistent care would bring a small bit of relief in a crisis that has kept many US parents, especially moms, away from their jobs.
“Moms are more than eager, practically desperate, for this vaccine,” said Alexis Barad-Cutler, founder of Not Safe for Mom Group, an online community for mothers. “Moms need to be able to be able to put kids in day care for their own sanity, to be able to do their jobs.”
The surge of Covid-19 cases this winter has meant total chaos for many working parents. Day-care centers have closed abruptly, nannies and babysitters are tough to find, and child-care costs have skyrocketed. More kids have also gotten sick recently, increasing the push from parents on the Biden administration to get shots cleared for younger children.
Between caring for sick kids and dealing with a lack of child-care options, parents have had to take time off work — for many low-wage workers that means unpaid time — cut back on hours, or take care of their children while working.
“We are clearly hearing that parents with kids under five are just way past their breaking point,” said Bethany Robertson, co-director at advocacy group ParentsTogether. “The lack of regular care has just played havoc with families’ earnings.”
Read More: Shortage of Vaccinated Nannies Is Latest Return-to-Office Hurdle
In the fall, even before the omicron variant sent cases soaring, about one in four households who needed child care said their kids couldn’t attend because centers were closed, unavailable, unaffordable or because of safety concerns, according to the Health Resources & Services Administration. At the start of January, about 8.8 million people were not working because they had Covid-19 or were caring for someone who did, according to the Household Pulse Survey from the US Census Bureau. That was nearly three times the figure from a month earlier.
Much of the disruption has fallen hardest on women, who typically bear the brunt of child-care duties. A child-care crisis has driven a workforce gender gap for decades, but Covid took things to another level, costing women globally at least $800 billion in lost income in 2020, according to Oxfam. Even before the pandemic, insufficient care for kids under the age of three cost US parents, businesses and taxpayers about $57 billion annually in lost earnings, productivity and revenue, according to advocacy group Council for a Strong America.
Kelly Fradin, a New York-based pediatrician and mom of two, said a vaccine for young kids is an exciting step forward because it can lessen their risk of severe symptoms that lead to hospitalization. It also decreases the chances of developing long Covid and of transmitting the virus to others.
“For parents who need consistent access to stable childcare outside the home, a vaccine will hopefully lessen the number of shutdowns and interruptions and decrease the need for precautions such as masking and testing in day-care settings,” she said in an email.
Fradin said she is looking forward to getting her own four-year-old vaccinated as soon as possible.
And while many parents will likely follow suit, there will also be the hold-outs.
Though vaccines have been available for children ages 5 to 11 for several months, vaccination rates in that group remain lower than in older demographics even amid signs that the omicron strain leaves kids at greater risk of disease. Virus cases among children have risen since omicron was first detected in the US in December, with pediatric hospitalizations reaching a record at the end of last year.
Read More: Kids’ Covid Hospitalizations Reach Record in Omicron Surge
As of mid-January, 28% of 5 to 11 year-olds had received at least one Covid-19 vaccine dose, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
On Tuesday, Pfizer Inc. and partner BioNTech SE said they have started a so-called rolling submission with the US Food and Drug Administration seeking an emergency authorization for the vaccine in children 6 months to four years of age. A panel of outside advisers is scheduled to meet Feb. 15 to consider the request, according to a statement from the agency.
In the meantime, Mona Amin, a Florida-based general pediatrician and parenting expert, says parents should continue to use current precautions like masking and hand washing. Indications that the omicron variant may be less severe than previous strains means there should be less “fear and dread” for parents while they wait for a vaccine.
“I am 100% pro-vaccine, but I am also 100% pro the process,” she said.
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