Contributor: Dr. Elise Herman, KVH Pediatrics
Another milestone was reached November 3rd when the Pfizer COIVD-19 vaccine was approved for children 5- 11 years old, and many medical providers and families breathed a sigh of relief at the news. But parents also have important questions about vaccinating their children.
Why should kids be vaccinated if they usually don’t seem to get that sick?
Children do get sick with COVID; about 25% of all COVID cases currently are in kids. Over 8,300 children aged 5-11 years have been hospitalized due to the virus. There have been 172 deaths in this age group, and almost 800 in those 18 and under. We also know kids can get “Long Haul COVID” like adults, with problems such as foggy thinking, fatigue, and dizziness lasting for months after the illness. A dangerous inflammatory disorder called Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children (MIS-C) can affect the heart, kidneys and brain and typically occurs about a month after a mild case of COVID.
Though kids with common issues such as asthma or obesity are at increased risk of getting more severe illness, about 30% of kids hospitalized have no underlying health problems. Children can transmit the virus even if they don’t feel sick, infecting friends, family members, teachers, etc. Vaccinating as many people as possible also decreases the risk for other variants to emerge. We absolutely want to avoid another Delta-like surge.
This vaccine dose is smaller than that for kids 12 years and above and adults. Why?
Dosing is a big part of the vaccine research. It was found that the 10-mcg dose (one third of the 30 mcg dose for those 12 and over) gave robust protection with fewer side effects. And don’t wait if your child is close to 12 years to get the bigger dose- getting vaccinated ASAP is very important, especially as we approach the holidays.
Was the research to approve this vaccine rushed? How safe and effective is it?
The COVID vaccine research went through the same Phase 1,2, and 3 trials as every other vaccine and thousands of kids were studied. No steps were left out to make sure the vaccine was safe and effective. It was the time in between these trials (usually months to years) that was shortened due to the urgency of the pandemic. The vaccine is 90.7% effective in preventing COVID disease in children.
What are the possible side effects? Are there any long-term side issues?
The possible side effects in kids are the same as for anyone receiving the vaccine- soreness at the injection site, fever, muscle aches, and headache which usually resolve within 2 days. Long-term side effects for any vaccine are uncommon and typically happen within 6 weeks. The COVID vaccines have been studied for many months with no long-term problems found.
Myocarditis (heart muscle inflammation) has occurred very rarely in teen and young adult males following the second dose of COIVD vaccine and may be related to puberty hormones. There were no cases of myocarditis in kids 5-11 years who were in the vaccine trials. COIVD itself causes myocarditis, and the risk of myocarditis is more common with the infection itself than the vaccine.
There has been misinformation about the vaccine and fertility. It does not affect fertility; scientifically there is no way for it to do that and there has been no evidence to support this concern.
Can COIVD vaccine be given with other immunizations? Yes, it can be combined with any other vaccine including influenza vaccine which is also very important right now.
How can I prepare my child for the vaccine?
Firstly, don’t call it a ‘shot’ or ‘poke’ which obviously sounds frightening. Refer to it as a ‘vaccine’ and express confidence to your child that it will help to keep them safe. Kids are used to getting vaccines—don’t make this one seem any different. And don’t tell them that it won’t hurt. Be honest, tell them it will briefly hurt but that they can handle it.
Point out other family members who are vaccinated. In some clinics, parents can get vaccinated along with their kids—a great way to be an example to your child! Ask your child what they have been missing due to the pandemic and explain that vaccination will help them get back to a more ‘normal life’, as well as keeping schools open and protecting others like grandparents. Getting to choose which arm to be vaccinated in gives kids some control. Of course, being in your lap or holding your hand helps, too.
Will kids still have to wear masks once they are vaccinated?
For all of us, needing to wear masks even once vaccinated has to do with how active the virus is in our communities. So for now we all have to adhere to the mask mandate. The more people of all ages are vaccinated, the less community transmission there will be and therefore the safer and more ‘normal’ life will be- for all of us.
Don’t wait to have your child vaccinated- even though the COVID numbers overall are slowly decreasing, most of the US is still struggling with a large amount of cases. Colder weather and the upcoming holidays are likely to make these numbers go up again. Your child will be considered fully vaccinated 2 weeks after the second injection, so if they get their first dose soon, the winter holiday season will look a lot brighter!
Elise Herman MD, Kittitas Valley Healthcare Pediatrics, November 2021