HOUSTON — Twice last year, Margaret Schulte and her husband, Jason Abercrombie, traveled 11 hours round trip to Louisiana from their home in Tulsa, Okla., in hopes of vaccinating their children, who were 2 and 4 years, against the coronavirus.
The only way to get vaccinated for their children — among the more than 19 million Americans under age 5 who aren’t yet eligible for vaccinations — was to take part in a clinical trial. So they signed up, hoping that an effective vaccine would mean that now, or at least very soon, some semblance of pre-pandemic life would be on the horizon.
It didn’t work that way.
The Pfizer trial their children participated in did not produce promising results, the company said last month. Vaccines have not emerged from other corners either. Moderna has not yet released the results of its pediatric trials.
Now Ms. Schulte and Mr. Abercrombie are among millions of parents stuck in excruciating limbo during a surge in Omicron cases, forced to battle daycare closures and childcare crises while the rest of the world seems eager to move forward.
“I’m actually at home with my daughter right now,” Ms Schulte, 41, a garden shop owner and eight months pregnant, said when reached by phone this week. There had been a positive case at her 2-year-old child’s nursery school. “This is the fourth or fifth time we’ve been quarantined,” she said. “There’s no work to do while she’s here.”
The near-vertical rise in coronavirus cases in recent weeks has complicated the calculations for many families with children under 5, a population prone to runny noses and coughs that are now causing waves of anxiety.
Tests are hard to get. Day care providers are under strain. According to a study from the University of California, Berkeley, there are about 110,000 fewer people working in child care compared to February 2020.
With childcare disruptions on the rise, parents of young children have once again found themselves sequestered at home, staring out of windows, once again wondering if the world cares about the seemingly impossible balancing acts that they must accomplish.
“The stress is just seeing that the rest of society has kind of moved on, and then the parents of young children and the young children themselves seem to be forgotten,” said Becky Quinn, a New York attorney. She and her husband found themselves stuck this week with both children and no childcare in their one-bedroom apartment in Brooklyn.
“We first received notification on Saturday that the baby was closed. We were like, OK, we can make this work,” Ms Quinn said. “Then on Sunday we heard that the 3-year-old’s class was closed. I just laughed at that time.
She and her husband can work remotely, a privilege she acknowledged not everyone has. And her bosses have been understanding, she said. But it was still difficult.
The convergence of repeated daycare and classroom closures with the realization that a vaccine for young children could still wait several months has forced many parents to make uncomfortable choices, especially women.
Aria Carter, who lives in rural Vermont, has retired from her job as an admissions director at a school due to childcare difficulties. Now she reads psychological assessments for admissions, a role she can play at odd hours or while her 1-year-old is napping and her 4-year-old is at school.
“I can’t put him in daycare, there’s no room,” Ms Carter said of her toddler. “I have no family where I live. It’s hard.” But she added that the spread of the Omicron variant meant she wouldn’t have felt comfortable putting him in daycare anyway and that she enjoyed his time at home. with him.
Shaneka Adewuyi, office administrator for the Tulsa Police Department, said at one point her daycare closed for six weeks due to an increase in cases. The challenge of juggling two young children, aged 1 and 2, with a 9-year-old girl in a virtual school, plus her job, is enough to bring Ms Adewuyi to tears.
“It’s hurting my mental health,” she said. “But babies need to eat, they need to be rocked to sleep, they need a diaper change.”
For some parents, the abnormality of the pandemic began with pregnancies consumed by worry about the effects of infection or vaccines. Routines have been changed for so long that many of their children have never experienced, or can’t remember, how things were before a life of quarantines and masks.
Mr Abercrombie, 39, said he was surprised when his 4-year-old son Andy did not want to play with other children in a playground. “He said they might have the disease,” Mr Abercrombie recalled. “What’s it like growing up if you think other kids might give them the disease?”
Vaccines, a key part of the federal response to the pandemic, have proven difficult to obtain for young children. Although vaccines are already available for ages 5 and up, parents of children 4 and under may have to wait months longer for an effective vaccine.
Even when they are available, many parents may choose not to give them to their young children. Vaccination rates remain very low — less than 20 percent — among the youngest eligible group, children aged 5 to 11 years.
Young children are at much less risk of becoming seriously ill after coronavirus infection than adults, doctors have said. While hospitalizations have increased for children, the overall numbers remain very low.
In Austin, Texas, Kyle and Tasha Countryman are among the lucky ones: they both have busier jobs than ever – building and selling furniture – and the daycare where they send their children, who are 1 and 2 years old. , closed some classes only a few times during the pandemic.
They were very careful while Ms Countryman, 36, was pregnant. “None of us wanted to get sick before I gave birth,” she said. Now, she says, her goal is to give the children as normal a life as possible. That means seeing family, friends, and cousins and going out to places where masks aren’t needed.
“We do this so our children can see other children’s faces,” Ms Countryman said. “I don’t want to go to some of these indoor places if it’s going to be very, ‘Stand here and everybody’s wearing masks.’ These are not the places we are actively looking to spend our time in. We go to more restaurants, breweries, activities than we can do outside.
She said she and her husband would not feel comfortable immediately receiving a coronavirus vaccine for their children and would want to ensure that any risk of side effects did not outweigh the benefits.
For Ms. Schulte, whose two young children took part in the Pfizer vaccine trial, the promise of a new vaccine gave way to more expectation.
“They already told us we’ll have to come back for a third dose because it didn’t generate enough immune response,” she said.
“We were hoping that we would now find out that one of our children was fully vaccinated and that we could move on,” she said. “It would have been nice, but a trial is a trial.”