Contributor: Dr. Elise Herman, KVH Pediatrics
A year ago, deep into the COVID-19 pandemic, it seemed unimaginable that we would have a safe and extremely effective vaccine against the Coronavirus that causes COVID-19 infection any time soon. Yet here we are, with about half of all adults in the US fully vaccinated so far. The vaccine was approved by the FDA and recommended by the CDC (Center for Disease Control) for those 16 years and older in December of 2020 and for those 12-15 years old on May 10, 2021. Over half a million kids aged 12-15 years have already received COVID-19 vaccines, and the current research on vaccinating kids 6 months through age 11 years looks very promising as well. Fantastic news, but understandably some parents may be unsure if the vaccine is right for their child.
Why vaccinate children against COVID-19 if they are less likely to get very sick with the virus?
Although COVID-19 typically is mild in kids, thousands of children have been hospitalized in the US and over 300 have died. Some who seem to have mild COVID-19 later may develop a rare but potentially life-threatening complication called MIS-C (Multi-system Inflammatory Syndrome in Children). MIS-C causes severe inflammation in multiple organs including the kidneys, brain, and lungs. Like adults, children may also have long-term health problems after COVID-19 infection.
Children also transmit the virus, possibly infecting family members and other contacts even if they have no signs of it themselves. The COVID-19 vaccines effectively block this transmission. Any infection at any age is an opportunity for the virus to mutate into potentially a more dangerous variant, something we need to avoid. Once kids are vaccinated, parents can be more reassured that it is safer to return to a more ‘normal’ life including in-person school, sports, and other activities.
How do children respond to the vaccine?
Kids have very active immune systems and have been shown to respond very well to the vaccine, but this also means they may be more likely to develop a fever after being vaccinated. Other potential side effects are like those in adults– discomfort at the injection site, headache, muscle aches, chills, and fatigue. These symptoms usually last 1-2 days.
Is the COVID-19 vaccine safe for children?
Yes. It is important to remember that the technology the COVID-19 vaccines use has been researched for over three decades and has been well studied. These vaccines have gone through very rigorous trials with thousands of children and have been shown to be extremely effective and safe. These children will be followed for years to monitor for potential health concerns. This close observation of vaccinated children is how a concern was recently raised about mild myocarditis, or mild heart inflammation. This condition has been noticed very rarely following vaccination in older teens and young adults. It is not clear yet if the vaccines truly play a role. The risks of COVID infection are felt to outweigh the potential risk of this rare condition which typically resolves within 2 weeks.
Can my child get COVID-19 vaccine along with their other childhood vaccinations?
Yes, there is no problem with combining COVID-19 vaccine with any other routine vaccines your child may need.
The Kittitas County Medical Society strongly recommends all children eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine receive it. Speak with your child’s healthcare provider if you have questions or would like more guidance in making this decision. The Kittitas County Health Department Facebook page is also an excellent source for more information.