Should your child get the COVID-19 vaccine?

May 20, 2021 | by Victoria Uribe, M.D.
Categories: Healthy Driven Moms

To date, nearly half of people in the U.S. have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and about 40% are fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Fully vaccinated people are less likely to become infected or spread the virus, and they no longer need to wear a mask in most situations, outdoors or indoors, per the CDC’s latest guidance.

Life is starting to get back to normal.

Even more promising, in May 2021, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) expanded emergency use authorization (EUA) for the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to include ages 12 and older. The other approved COVID-19 vaccines include another two-dose mRNA vaccine by Moderna for ages 18 and up, and a single-dose vector vaccine by Janssen (J&J) for ages 18 and up. The Pfizer vaccine is currently the only one authorized for use in this younger age group.

This means that the vaccine was shown to be safe and effective for children as young as 12, as we’ve seen in adults for several months now. The data included a study of 2,260 participants ages 12-15 enrolled in a placebo-controlled clinical trial. The study found the two-dose shot worked safely in that age group and was 100% effective in preventing COVID-19. No serious side effects were reported.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) endorsed the move: "This is truly an exciting development that allows us to protect a large population of children and help them regain their lives after a really rough year.”

Expanding vaccination to children as young as 12 is an important step in trying to put an end to the pandemic, as children represent about one-quarter of the U.S. population. It paves the way for kids to be immunized for summer camps, sports, travel and the start of the next school year.

Many parents have already signed their child up for the vaccine, but others remain skeptical. Even parents who got vaccinated themselves are wondering if their child should get vaccinated. Is it really necessary for children? Is it safe? Are there long-term effects? These are the questions on parents’ minds.

The Pfizer vaccine is an mRNA vaccine. It contains a portion of mRNA that sends the body’s cells instructions to make a harmless piece of spike protein, the button on the surface of the SARS-CoV2 virus. Once the spike protein is translated by the mRNA, antibodies are produced against the spike protein, teaching the immune system to fight the virus if exposed.

The Pfizer vaccine is an injection in the arm and is administered in two doses, three weeks apart. Studies show that full immunity happens about two weeks after the second dose. Then, the vaccine is about 95% effective at preventing COVID-19 illness based on evidence from clinical trials.

Scientists are still learning how long that immunity will last. Even if your child already had COVID-19, vaccination is still recommended as it creates a longer-lasting immune response.

Ask your child’s doctor if the vaccine is right for your child, and about the risk and benefits. For instance, vaccination may not be recommended for a child with a known history of a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) to any component of the vaccine.

Some reasons to consider vaccinating children include:

  1. The vaccine has been widely used in adults before it was made available to kids.

    Keep in mind, more than 150 million people in the U.S. have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, with a very low rate of serious side effects. Before enrolling kids, there was strong and compelling safety data of the COVID-19 vaccine in adults.

  2. Protection from COVID-19 infection.

    Young people make up a rising proportion of new coronavirus cases in the U.S. While most children who develop COVID-19 will have no symptoms or mild ones, some can, more rarely, become severely ill. Like adults, kids with some underlying medical conditions could face a greater risk of severe illness from COVID-19. Children are also at risk for MIS-C, a rare but serious complication of COVID-19. Further, some children experience long-term symptoms after a COVID-19 infection. Immunity from the vaccine allows your child to clear the virus quickly if infected and protects them from severe infection.

  3. Reducing risk to others.

    Like adults, children with COVID-19 can spread the virus to others if they’re infected, even when no symptoms are present. Vaccination helps reduce the risk to others, including family members and friends who may be susceptible.

  4. Safe and effective.

    The FDA and CDC take vaccine safety precautions very seriously. Just like other vaccines your child has likely received, the COVID-19 vaccine has gone through clinical trials and rigorous scientific review to show that it’s safe for children as young as 12. No corners were cut. Additionally, the vaccine does not contain the live virus so it cannot cause COVID-19, and the mRNA never enters the nucleus of the cell, so the vaccine does not change DNA in any way. Learn the myths and facts about the vaccine.

  5. Vaccine side effects are mild and short-term.

    Much like vaccinations for adults, the COVID-19 vaccine could bring some temporary side effects for kids that signal a revved-up immune system. The side effects of the vaccine are usually mild and may include a sore arm, fatigue, headache, flu-like fever, chills and muscle aches, particularly after the second dose. Side effects generally ease within 24-48 hours. There have been reports of allergic reactions to the vaccine, but these occurrences are very rare.

  6. Helps combat COVID-19 mutations and variants.

    The more people who get sick with a COVID-19 infection, the more chances for the virus to mutate. This has led to variants that can become dominant. An important step in fighting variants is to ensure as many people as possible get the vaccine, including children 12 and older now that they are eligible.

  7. Brings us closer to herd immunity.

    To reach herd immunity against COVID-19, a substantial proportion (80-85%) of a population would need to be vaccinated. Children under age 18 make up about 24% of the U.S. population, so vaccinating young people helps protect the general population and gets us closer to an end of the pandemic.

  8. Helps us get back to normal.

    Vaccination can help kids get back to typical activities and social interactions they desperately need for their development and well-being. The more immunized children, the easier for communities to safely reopen and regain a sense of normalcy. Having your child vaccinated is an important step to getting back to normal.

Vaccine studies for younger children are ongoing and other COVID-19 vaccines may be approved for this younger age group in the months ahead. Pfizer and Moderna are also currently recruiting children as young as 6 months for pediatric vaccine trials. Pfizer will likely seek EUA for ages 2 to 11 this fall 2021.

Your child’s doctor can help you determine if, and when, to get your child vaccinated.

For those under age 18 who want to get the COVID-19 vaccine at Edward-Elmhurst Health, a parent/guardian must sign the consent form AND be physically in attendance at the time of the vaccine.

Schedule a COVID-19 vaccine today.

For more information about the COVID-19 vaccine, please check EEHealth.org/coronavirus/vaccine.

Edward-Elmhurst Health offers screening options for COVID-19. Eleanor, your personal virtual assistant, can help you check your symptoms 24/7 and advise you on what to do next. We also offer Video Visits and E-Visits for COVID-19 symptoms.

The information in this article may change at any time due to the changing landscape of this pandemic. Read the latest on COVID-19.

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