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Staff File Photo By Matt Hamilton / Nurse Sandra Young gives a dose of COVID-19 vaccine to Chattanooga resident Allen Harris at the Tennessee Riverpark in September 2021.

Remember December 2020 when millions of Americans couldn't wait to receive a COVID-19 vaccination?

They were tired of being shut up in their houses, unable to see loved ones and lead any semblance of a pre-pandemic life. At that point, most of them didn't care what was in the vaccine — horse medicine, paprika, motor oil or beets — as long as it would protect them.

A year and a half later, with millions of Americans at least somewhat protected from the virus and the virus's variants, we have four Republican Tennessee legislators writing to Gov. Bill Lee and asking him to keep state health officials from promoting or recommending the vaccine for children ages 6 months up to age 5.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently authorized both the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccines for children in that age bracket, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) gave its imprimatur for the group as well.

What do state Rep. Jason Zachary, R-Knoxville, a COVID-19 vaccine skeptic, House Speaker Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville, Majority Leader William Lamberth, R-Portland, and GOP Caucus Chair Jeremy Faison, R-Cosby know that the nation top epidemiologists don't?

That's not entirely clear.

But what they wrote in the letter was: "We simply cannot recommend injecting an mRNA vaccine into children who have never been at serious risk from death or hospitalization from COVID-19. We do not know the short-term and long-term impact on their development and overall health. As always, parents should seek consultation and recommendation from their family pediatrician about what is best for their child's health."

OK, there in the last sentence is the best advice for all Americans — seek consultation with your family physician.

But if the physician should feel the same way as the FDA and CDC, Tennessee residents who use their local health departments for inoculations should know the vaccine is available.

It's unthinkable that legislators get into the business of telling health departments whether or how to offer protective medicines that have been approved by the nation's top health officials for wider use.

No vaccine or medicine is 100% effective, and all vaccines may produce side effects in some people. And yes, one person in many hundreds of thousands of cases may have an extremely serious or fatal reaction.

We know of a local case of a healthy baby who was given a dose of penicillin nearly 50 years ago and died almost immediately in the doctor's office. But, tragic as that was, penicillin continued to be used and continues to save lives across the country and the world.

It's true, as the four legislators in the letter say, that we do not know the short-term and long-term impact on their development and overall health. However, clinical trial data found the vaccines were safe and effective for the age group.

The process, according to the Connecticut Children's health system, was this: Several thousand children were given either the vaccine or a placebo and then closely followed for months. Two-thirds received the vaccine, and the other third received a placebo for comparison. Over a number of months, Pfizer and Moderna tested different dosages to find the best one for this age group's immune system.

The usual short-term side effects (sore arm, fever, chills or headache) were seen in the clinical trials and are no different than those experienced by young children, teens and adults.

When the Tennessee governor's office was asked for a response to the missive from the four legislators, the governor's press secretary said in a statement to this newspaper's Andy Sher: "We have received the letter."

Last year, when Zachary and other legislators became upset about the state health department encouraging teens to get vaccinated against COVID-19, the furor led to the state's top vaccination official being fired (and eventually filing a federal lawsuit) and one legislator threatening to abolish the state health department.

Since the Hamilton County Health Department sent out a news release last week advertising the availability of vaccines for the youngest eligible children beginning yesterday, we guess Lee is not paying much attention to the legislators' recommendation.

In the release, local health department administrator Sabrina Novak said this: "We also understand that many in our community have hesitancies or concerns regarding these vaccines. We highly encourage parents and legal guardians to reach out to their pediatricians with any questions they may have. You can also reach our COVID hotline at 423-209-8383, which is always staffed with an on-call nurse."

Although our health department is administering only the Pfizer shots to the youngest age group, it noted the Moderna vaccines are available throughout the community.

The shots offer young children protection from hospitalization, death and possible long-term complications still not clearly understood, according to an advisory panel of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

More than 30,000 U.S. children younger than age 5 have been hospitalized with COVID-19 and nearly 500 coronavirus deaths have been reported in that age group, Dr. Vivek Murthy, the U.S. surgeon general said.

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