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When parents disagree over vaccinating their kids

Cape Cod Children's Place

The Food and Drug Administration will decide tomorrow whether to authorize a COVID vaccine for kids aged 5 and older.

Pfizer says its vaccine showed better than 90% efficacy in a clinical trial. If the FDA authorizes it, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will recommend next week how to administer the shots. Already, 360,000 doses are headed to Massachusetts.

But what should parents do if they disagree over whether to vaccinate their kids?

Cindy Horgan is executive director of Cape Cod Children's Place, a family resource center in Eastham. She spoke to CAI's Patrick Flanary on Morning Edition about this inevitable family conversation.

Patrick Flanary: I imagine there will be tough questions for some parents to consider now that the vaccine is headed to the state for children.

Cindy Horgan: It's going to be truly a challenging moment for families, especially under those circumstances. Emotions get big. And I really think we need to take a pause, look at the science, and ask the experts. Our job as parents is to protect our children, and there's so much overdosing in the media on all these things that can go wrong or go well, that I really feel parents are in a vulnerable place right now. And I believe really listening to one another and becoming experts. And we become experts by finding out the facts behind protecting our children.

PF: What about when you've got parents split over what the facts are? How do you and Cape Cod Children's Place guide parents through these discussions?

CH: There's a thinking out there called Collaborative Problem Solving. And when you do that, you really begin the process of listening. That has to be a key factor here. Whether they're co-parenting together in the same home or in different homes, it's learning how to understand what's negotiable and what's non-negotiable, and where does this stance come from.

PF: Should this discussion happen in front of the child? Should the child be involved?

CH: I think that depends on the age of the child and their ability to understand. Children feed off the emotion of the caregivers. That's going to be what guides a child. And sometimes I think it's a real teachable moment for children to say that, sometimes, people who care about each other might not always agree. And I think that's really important when we have a controversial conversation in front of us.

PF: Many parents do trust the science, but that doesn't necessarily mean they favor vaccinating their child just yet. Is there any advantage to waiting?

CH: I know that there are some families that choose to space out or delay vaccinations. And I really feel that's a pediatrician and family conversation and decision.

PF: How do you and Cape Cod Children's Place offer family support during a pandemic?

CH: We are a family resource center, and on March 13, 2020, when the world started closing down, I knew that Cape Cod Children's Place was essential to families. So we continued to be in that building and take every phone call from every family, because I knew they needed a place where they would not be judged, where they could call and ask for what they needed, whether it be food or diapers. A lot of it was about emotional support: you are not alone; we are there with you.

PF: If parents are unable to resolve this and find themselves at an impasse, should they visit a marriage counselor, a family therapist, or book an appointment with you?

CH: They can always make an appointment with me. What I'm able to do is listen and help them hear each other. That's often one of the obstacles, is that they are so full of emotion that they cannot hear the other. But sometimes it is about going to that next level. I'm not a counselor. But I say, let's talk to that person who knows our child — our pediatrician. We've been fortunate at Cape Cod Children's Place to work with a retired physician who has been our guide when we've had questions or we were unsure about something. We have always gone to what I consider the experts on the science.

Patrick Flanary is a dad, journalist, and host of Morning Edition.