Amid Push to Vaccinate Children, Other Challenges Deluge Pediatricians

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A few hours later, Brandon, 10, carefully watched his older brother, Jonathan, get several vaccines, including the Covid-19 shot. He decided to get the shot, too, drawing applause.

But nearby, the mother of Eliuth, 10, and Karen, 13, refused the vaccine for them, saying that family members had died after getting the shot. Bria Clyburn, a medical assistant, was careful not to sound dismissive, gently telling them that they had long lives ahead and needed to be protected for the holidays. Their mother promised to consider allowing them to get vaccinated at their next appointment, months away.

Promotion of the vaccine was often wedged into anguished discussions about how a child’s social life had been shattered by the virus. Away from school, her patients who badly needed intellectual and social stimulation had suffered developmental problems, Dr. Steptoe said. If she detects mental health problems during an appointment, she summons Rachael Pennell, a behavioral health consultant.

Emiliano, the 9-year-old patient who had recently erupted at students and teachers in school, was grounded after disrupting class. Ms. Pennell told his parents to let him keep going to soccer practice.

The pandemic had deprived children of “two years of key relationships,” she said.

Dr. Steptoe said that the father of one young child she saw recently was fearful of letting his son even go outside during the pandemic, lest he bring the virus home to vulnerable family members. The child gained 40 pounds in a year.

Dylan, an 8-year-old patient, had gained weight during the pandemic but was beginning to get more exercise. Dr. Steptoe suggested strategies for keeping junk food out of the home. But when the discussion turned to the Covid vaccine, Dylan’s mother said she would need to consult her husband.

Late one day, Dr. Steptoe greeted 16-year-old Tiffany, who after moving to Charlotte during the pandemic had gone months without the medication she needed to treat several mental health disorders. She was struggling to sleep. School officials had appeared at her home one day after she missed a significant amount of class. She was fearful that if she returned to school, she would be confronted there about her problems and judged by her peers.

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