Should your kids get the COVID-19 vaccine?
On Oct. 29, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration authorized the emergency use of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 5 to 11. This decision was made after clinical trials determined the vaccine to be over 90% effective for that age group with no serious side effects.
For millions of parents, this news has been eagerly awaited and they're wasting no time. However, some parents might be hesitant for a variety of reasons. Below are some of the most common questions we're receiving from parents.
Q: Is the COVID-19 vaccine safe for kids?
Before the vaccine for children received emergency use authorization from the FDA, scientists conducted rigorous clinical trials to ensure it was safe. Moreover, the vaccines are being monitored for safety with the most comprehensive and intense safety monitoring program in U.S. history.
Q: Should my child get the COVID-19 vaccine? What if they've already had COVID-19?
I recommend getting your child vaccinated as soon as possible, even if they've previously had COVID-19. This significantly lowers the risk of infection or reinfection and helps protect them against virus variants. And vaccination protects more than your child. It also protects other people's children, their teachers and their grandparents. Vaccination is the single best way to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
Q: Should any children not get the COVID-19 vaccine?
If your child has a history of a severe allergic reaction to any of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine's ingredients, please speak with their pediatrician first. Even if your child may not be able to receive the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine at this time, they might be able to receive a different vaccine when authorized for use. Children with other allergies, however, can safely get the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
Q: How is the children's COVID-19 vaccine different from the one adults get?
The vaccine uses a lower dose -- 10 micrograms instead of 30 -- and a smaller needle. The vaccine's ingredients, however, are the same.
Q: What are the possible side effects for children?
There can be a little pain, redness and swelling at the point of injection. Your child might feel tired afterward or experience headaches, muscle pain, chills, a high temperature or nausea, lasting about one to three days. This is similar to the side effects reported by adults and are normal as your child's body builds the protection it needs. Many kids experience no side effects at all.
Q: Can my child get COVID-19 from the COVID-19 vaccine?
No. The vaccine does not expose you to the virus. Instead, it uses messenger RNA (mRNA) to teach your immune system how to recognize and fight the actual virus. Think of mRNA as instructions for how to make something. In the case of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, those instructions are for your cells to produce the distinctive spike protein that exists on the surface of the coronavirus. This spike protein is harmless by itself. When the spike protein appears on the surface of your cells, the immune system recognizes that it doesn't belong and makes antibodies to eradicate it. Those antibodies are then used to fight the actual virus if you are ever exposed to it.
Q: Will the COVID-19 vaccine cause future infertility?
The COVID-19 vaccine will not affect your child's future fertility. During the Pfizer vaccine tests, 23 women volunteers involved in the study became pregnant. If you still have questions or concerns, talk about it with your child's primary care provider.
Q: Do the risks of vaccination outweigh the benefits?
The benefits of vaccinating your child for COVID-19 far outweigh the alleged risks. While it is accurate to say that children infected with COVID-19 generally have milder symptoms and a lower risk of death, that risk is not zero:
• COVID-19 cases in children ages five to 11 make up 39% of cases in people under age 18.
• Approximately 8,300 of those cases resulted in hospitalization.
• As of Oct. 17, 146 U.S. children ages five to 11 have died from COVID-19.
• Some studies indicate that up to half of children may have persistent symptoms of long after recovery, even after having only a mild case of illness.
There also is an inherent gamble in taking a wait-and-see approach to vaccination. If a more powerful or contagious variant were to break out, children could be at a higher risk of severe infection or persistent symptoms.
There are approximately 28 million children in the U.S. between the ages of 5 and 11. This makes the age group one of the largest remaining vectors for the coronavirus to spread. Two safe, simple shots can stop the virus from hurting our kids and using them as an incubator for new diseases.
And with each vaccination, we all get one step closer to a world where our kids can go to school in person without masks. A world without restrictions on playdates, playgrounds, sports or socializing. It's the world our children need.
• Children's health is a continuing series. Dr. Joshua Rosen is a pediatrician and internist with Amita Health Medical Group.