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Why Give Kids the COVID-19 Vaccine? A Methodist Pediatrician With Kids of Her Own Weighs InPublished: Nov. 3, 2021
With the approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 5-11, millions of parents breathed a sigh of relief. Their kids were offered another tool for protection against COVID-19.
Still, many parents have questions or doubts about the vaccine. With that in mind, we asked Methodist Physicians Clinic pediatrician Natalie Fleming, MD – who has two children of her own – about common questions pediatricians are hearing.
Why is the COVID-19 vaccine so important for kids and families?
I absolutely endorse the COVID-19 vaccine for my patients, just as I would for my own children. Here’s why: The vaccine can prevent severe infection or hospitalization in kids – and, yes, kids can become seriously ill from COVID-19. They also can become infected with COVID-19 as easily as adults, and they are just as contagious as adults. The vaccine will help limit family and community spread while helping protect those who are immunocompromised.
Additionally, getting vaccinated can help get us back to a state of normalcy. Many families are still limiting their travel and other activities due to their children's inability to be vaccinated. This vaccine will allow families to resume more normal activities while decreasing the amount of school time kids are missing due to infection or quarantine policies. The vaccine gives kids more opportunities to just be kids.
Why did it take longer for a children’s dose of the vaccine to be approved?
I know it’s frustrating that the vaccine trial and approval process for kids has taken this long. But all pediatricians will tell you that our patients are not just little adults. They have their own specific physiology and immune function – and they require unique dosing and scheduling when it comes to vaccines. It takes time to get it right. I support the time and effort taken to properly research the vaccine for young people.
Is the COVID-19 vaccine safe for kids? How do we know?
All vaccine side effects are closely monitored by the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS). Many reports you may have seen of serious side effects and even death following vaccination are misrepresentations of data or outright misinformation.
The vaccine is safe for children, and here’s an example of scientific safeguards at work: As adolescents started to become further vaccinated over the summer, some mild cases of myocarditis and pericarditis (two types of heart inflammation) were noted mostly in adolescent males after their second dose. With this finding, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) called on Pfizer-BioNTech to increase its trial size for the 5- to 11-year-old age group, which it did. During the trial for younger children, there were no reported cases of pericarditis or myocarditis.
Is this a two-dose series? What side effects can children expect?
The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for children is a two-dose series dosed three weeks apart.
Possible side effects for children are similar to those seen in adults. They include:
- Muscle soreness at the injection site
How can I prepare my child to best handle any side effects?
You know your child best. If they do well with preparation and explanation, tell them what the plan is and what to expect. Have acetaminophen or ibuprofen on hand to treat a possible fever or injection site discomfort.
Not all children benefit from knowing about a shot ahead of time. If yours suffers from anxiety when it comes to doctor’s visits, it may be best to simply have a plan for a small reward afterward.
Could children miss school or activities because of their side effects? Should we wait until closer to the holidays?
It’s possible that children may miss a day of school due to side effects like fever or fatigue. Of course, this is far better than missing over a week of school due to a COVID-19 infection.
I recommend getting your child vaccinated as soon as possible so they can start building immunity in preparation for holiday get-togethers.
Are any side effects known to follow a genetic line (For example, Mom experienced a fever, so a child may, too)?
Side effects for the vaccine have not been determined to be genetic. Just because you experienced a certain symptom does not mean your child will have the same experience.
Why get vaccinated now instead of waiting for a child dose of Moderna or Johnson & Johnson to be approved?
While Moderna and Johnson & Johnson have ongoing trials for children, we have no definite timeline for their approval. If your child is eligible, their best chance at vaccination right now is with the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
Are there any children who should not get the vaccine?
If your child has an immunodeficiency, is on a medication that impacts their immune system, has a blood clotting disorder or is on a blood thinner, talk with their primary care provider prior to giving them the vaccine. If your child has allergic reaction to the first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, be sure to consult with their provider about whether a second dose is appropriate.
Do kids still need to wear masks after they’re vaccinated?
Two weeks after their second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, over 90% of children showed a sufficient immune response. At this time, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends masking for children ages 2-11 and those who are unvaccinated. I anticipate this will change as more children are vaccinated.
Can a child get the COVID-19 vaccine and the flu shot at the same time?
A child can certainly get their COVID-19 vaccine and flu shot at the same time. If a child has not yet been vaccinated for influenza at the time of their COVID-19 vaccine, I recommend they receive both.
Don’t Hesitate To Reach Out
As a parent, I know how scary and frustrating the past 20 months have been. As a doctor, I’m encouraged by the steps we’ve all taken to keep our families and community safe. The COVID-19 vaccine for children is the next such step.
When it comes to COVID-19 and vaccination, you’re right to have questions and concerns. Don’t hesitate to reach out to your child’s provider. We’re committed to being your partner in keeping your kids happy and healthy.