A pediatrician’s passion is helping kids stay safe and healthy. Most of our day is spent answering questions about ways to reduce risk to children — we cover everything from helmets, to poisons, to water safety. Of late, those questions have turned to risks associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, and particularly about COVID vaccines.
To me, the answer is clear: COVID-19 vaccines for kids are far safer than the disease.
COVID-19 is quite risky for children, even though the risk is greater for older ages. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over 550 kids in the United States have died of COVID-19 (and almost 100 in the past month). Over 5,200 children have developed MIS-C (a serious, long-term inflammatory complication of COVID), and tens of thousands of our children have been hospitalized. Especially sobering, over 140,000 kids have lost a parent or secondary caregiver to COVID. In some of those tragic cases, a child brought the virus home.
Faced with these dangers, we’ve had to figure out how best to lessen these risks while still allowing children the opportunities and experiences they need to grow and develop. Fortunately, a powerful measure now exists. A COVID vaccine is available for kids 12 and up, and was found to be extremely effective at these ages in clinical trials. The vaccine also reduces the chance of spreading the disease to others, including the delta variant. Soon, a CDC advisory committee will meet to decide whether to authorize the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for 5- to 11-year-olds. Parents who have been working so hard to keep COVID out of their homes may only have a short time before their school-aged kids can be immunized and safe.
When asked what I think about COVID vaccines for this age group, I’m enthusiastically positive. Every pediatrician I’ve talked to is looking forward to this opportunity — protecting kids is why we went into this career.
The data for 5- to 11-year-olds looks strong, with similar efficacy and safety to other age groups. And the delta variant is so contagious that it has become a question of when, not if, an unvaccinated child gets COVID. Immunizing is clearly the far safer choice.
Parents understandably have questions about safety, which is great — we are cautious when it comes to our kids. They may have heard that the vaccine has the rare side effect of myocarditis (heart inflammation), which occurs in roughly 1 in 10,000 young adults and teens, mostly males, after their second shot. This would be more concerning if two things weren’t understood. First, the cases of myocarditis from the vaccine have been generally mild. Second, COVID illness causes myocarditis at higher rates than the vaccine, among many other complications. All things considered, being immunized against COVID-19 will reduce a child’s health risks.
I also get questions about “long term” side effects. Parents might ask about hypothetical problems that might not be evident immediately, but could pop up months or years after getting the vaccine. This is understandable with a new vaccine for children, but there really isn’t a basis for concern. Vaccinations aren’t like medications that you take daily for months or years, after which such delayed effects might occur. We would expect serious problems to show up during the months of safety data that we have from clinical trials. And if a problem is so uncommon that it didn’t show up in the trials, it’s going to be far rarer than the known dangers of COVID. Historically, vaccines have an excellent safety record, and modern vaccines benefit from extensive safety monitoring using several surveillance systems.
Parents who are getting their children flu shots want to make sure that they can still get their COVID vaccines as soon as they are available, and there is good news there, too — there’s no waiting period between a COVID vaccine and a flu shot, or any other non-COVID vaccine. COVID and flu shots can be given on the same day, in fact. While it’s always worth checking with your child’s health care provider if you are unsure, there are very few true contraindications to getting a COVID vaccine.
Immunization continues to be one of the easiest and most reliable ways to protect children from dangerous disease, and the COVID-19 vaccine is no different. As the delta variant rapidly circulates through the nonimmune population, I urge parents to choose to give their child the best protection available and get them vaccinated.
Dr. Nathan Boonstra, FAAP, is a general pediatrician at Blank Children’s Hospital in Des Moines and chair of the state immunization coalition Iowa Immunizes.
Source : https://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/opinion/columnists/iowa-view/2021/10/24/reasons-aplenty-kids-get-covid-vaccine/6125152001/1230