ROCHESTER, Minn. — For Patricia Procel’s family of five, getting the COVID-19 vaccine was never a question.
"For us, it's the correct way to do. Everybody needs to be protected. My family needs to be protected,” she said.
Both Procel and her husband Mauricio Loria and two of their three kids are vaccinated.
But their youngest, Nico, 11, isn't because he's ineligible for the vaccine.
Like many parents, Procel and Loria are eagerly awaiting for this to change in coming weeks with the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's expected approval of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for children 5-11 years old.
With a third of new cases cropping up in kids these days, Dr. Abe Jacob, chief quality officer for M Health Fairview, said that vaccinating this age group will go a long way in protecting society at large from the virus.
“This will have a big impact,” Jacob said. "What we're trying to do is reduce the overall viral burden that exists in our communities."
Collective mindset vs. individual thinking
Nico Loria-Procel was born with a rare genetic disorder called Pitt-Hopkins syndrome that leads to severe motor and intellectual delays.
While the disorder doesn't put Nico at higher risk of getting a severe case of COVID-19, his parents say he might be more likely to get it and transmit it to his paraprofessional.
"The nature of a special kid with a para at school, it's the opposite of social distance. They're together all day long,” he said.
Loria said that masking is hard for Nico — he won't wear one for long. Close contact is essential to get him through his days.
Procel and Loria say that getting their youngest a shot will put them at ease about his own health.
But Loria said vaccination will also help protect other kids in Nico's special education class.
"You've got to think in the collective mindset, not with individual thinking. It's not about, 'Oh, my son doesn't need it. So then why?' No, it's, ‘My son doesn't really need it as much as others, but he's with kids that are very fragile,’ ” Loria said.
‘The vaccine is a privilege’
Also influencing Procel and Loria’s decision to vaccinate themselves and their family is watching friends and family back in Mexico struggle to find shots.
Procel and Loria immigrated to the United States from Mexico 16 years ago. They live in Edina, Minnesota, now and say they're surprised the U.S. has so many people who won't take the shot.
"The vaccine in the United States it's a gift, it's a privilege," said Loria.
While people in other parts of the world die because there aren't enough vaccines to go around, "there's so many everywhere — in CVS and Walgreens, in the grocery store — and people are questioning. It's almost being selfish," he said.
Procel and Loria have helped family in Mexico get vaccinated in the United States because there are shortages of vaccines and health care back home. Procel said people in the U.S. don’t always appreciate what they have.
"Probably people who were born here, they don't see that because they are used to having everything — too much, always," said Procel.
Spinning a roulette wheel
Jacob said that reducing the number of cases among kids will also lessen chances for the virus to mutate.
"We're just spinning a roulette wheel. Every time you spin that roulette wheel, there's a chance that a variant could pop up that could spread and become even more infectious than delta,” he said.
At the same time, vaccination will offer better individual protection to kids as the highly contagious delta variant continues to cycle through Minnesota, leading to pediatric and adult hospital bed shortages.
Kids, Jacob said, typically don't get severely ill from COVID-19, and most don't end up hospitalized. But right now, pediatric ICUs at Fairview and around the state are packed, in part due to the early emergence of RSV, another respiratory illness that can be serious for some kids.
Jacob said COVID-19 cases on top of that stretch an already thin system — one that's simultaneously grappling with labor shortages.
“That's what's making us so nervous, is any additional admissions related to COVID, that will just put us over the edge,” he said.
‘It’s just exhausting’
In Minneapolis, Oliver Perez and his wife are coming off weeks of quarantine for their 9- and 11-year-olds.
Both were exposed to COVID-19, and both of their quarantine periods overlapped. Even though they tested negative repeatedly, at the time, Minneapolis Public Schools wouldn't let them come back until their respective two-week quarantines were over.
“In the two weeks that both my kids were out, we had two negative rapid tests, and combined five PCR tests that all came back negative, but yet they had the full two-week [quarantine],” he said.
During their quarantines, Perez said his kids were offered very little learning at home, setting his kids back just a little bit more academically.
Once fully vaccinated, Perez said, school policy will allow his kids to return to school even after an exposure as long as they don't have symptoms.
Perez said getting his kids vaccinated will be less disruptive to his and his wife's work. Both have worked from home during the pandemic, but expectations around being in the office and traveling for work are starting to return to normal.
On top of that, Perez said the constant risk assessment is taking a mental toll.
"It's just exhausting, just not having that certainty,” he said. “Every day you wake up and you just have no idea if like I'm going to get a call and now the next two weeks are kind of flipped upside down."
Perez said that with a little more certainty — about his kids' safety, about whether they can even make plans for the weekend — he can start to relax.