Everything Pediatricians Want You to Know About About Getting Your Child the COVID Vaccine
This time last year Americans were holding out hope for a coronavirus vaccine and some sense of normalcy as families adjusted Halloween plans to make things a little safer amid the pandemic. Now, with more than 64 percent of Americans ages 12 and over fully vaccinated and kids ages 5 to 11 eyeing vaccine eligibility this fall, parents are dealing with a whole new milestone: getting their younger children a COVID shot.
On September 28, Pfizer submitted initial data from trials of COVID vaccines in school-age kids to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The FDA plans to hold advisory committee meetings to discuss safety and efficacy data next week. With evidence that the vaccine is safe and effective—and side effects are minimal—children ages 5 to 11 could soon also be eligible to receive the vaccine. While protection for our kids is on the horizon, vaccination is still not a black and white issue for all parents.
Recent polling from the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) shows that even parents who have done their important part in getting vaccinated have reservations when it comes to their kids and only 48 percent plan to get their younger children vaccinated as soon as it's authorized. When I was pregnant earlier this year and considered getting the COVID-19 vaccine during my third trimester I remember feeling like the decision would have been immensely easier had I not been pregnant with an unborn baby to think about. But I'm glad I did get the vaccine when I did—and the thought of protecting my baby with antibodies was enough for me to feel good about the decision (especially with the recent advisory from the CDC reiterating the urgent need for pregnant people to get vaccinated). Now, I'm faced with the next step in this pandemic journey—vaccinating my 3-year-old and 5-month-old sons. Of course, the pros outweigh the cons—and I will be vaccinating them when health experts give the green light—but making health decisions for our little humans is always hard.
To answer my own questions and quell any concerns of other parents, I spoke to pediatricians with kids who get it on both a professional and personal level. Their advice? Nerves are normal, but we've got to vaccinate our children when they're eligible.
Pediatrician Parents Say Vaccine Benefits Outweigh Any Risks
"I want to recognize the normalcy in feeling this way," says Mona Amin, D.O., the doctor behind @pedsdoctalk on Instagram, a mom, and creator of The New Mom's Survival Guide, a digital e-course and online community for navigating the first year of motherhood. "This vaccine is 'new' and you want to make sure you are making the best decision for your child. As a mom and pediatrician, I have been watching the data in the 12 group and it has been promising. The vaccine is safe and effective where the benefits greatly outweigh any risk."
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), child COVID-19 cases are on the rise—with nearly 850,000 cases in September and 225,978 cases reported between September 9 to 16 alone. While kids haven't gotten as sick from COVID as adults, one child in the hospital is one too many, and the long-term physical, emotional, and mental health effects of the pandemic are still unknown.
"The Delta variant has changed the ball game and children are getting this virus and some end up hospitalized," says Dr. Amin. "Vaccination will give us our best chance to protect our children and their peers who may be more vulnerable to complications."
It's Time to Trust the Experts
Shockingly, the percentage of parents who are "very likely" to get vaccinated (28 percent) is on par with the number who are also "very unlikely" to get vaccinated (33 percent), according to a national survey conducted from February to March of 2021. Of course, this was months ago, and feelings change quickly in the pandemic, but the more recent KFF data showed that one-quarter of parents definitely won't get their kids vaccinated, with side effects typically at the heart of their hesitation. Pediatricians stress the safety measures taken before the FDA approves the vaccine for kids.
"We do know that all the studies have been conducted under stringent rules and guidelines, which is why the rollout for younger children has taken longer," says Carole Allen, M.D., pediatrician and president of the Massachusetts Medical Society who previously served on the AAP board of directors. "In fact, the safety profile of these vaccines is very high. We want our children to be in school and to be safe while there. The safest way for them to participate is for them to be vaccinated—and encourage their friends to do so as well."
For those feeling reluctant, it's a good idea to speak with your family pediatrician. The vaccine has already proven safe for kids ages 12 to 15, any side effects—usually pain at the injection site, fatigue, headache, or fever—are typically mild, and severe allergic reactions are rare, but happen immediately. Within a week or so after eligibility opens up for children there will be even more data supporting what we've seen so far: COVID vaccines are safe. That's why doctors say you should plan to vaccinate your kids as soon as you can.
"When we vaccinate, we are choosing to take the known very small risk of a vaccine—common side effects—versus the unknown risk of getting COVID in the community and having complications," says Dr. Amin. "Vaccines are studied and monitored to make sure it serves the best interest of the child and I want parents to rest assured that your pediatrician and the medical community are tirelessly making sure the safety and efficacy are there for your children in regards to vaccines."
Vaccinating Our Kids Is Crucial to Stopping the Pandemic
"Vaccination is the key to stopping this virus," says Dr. Amin. "The more people we have vaccinated, the less places this virus has to go. Viruses like hosts and they find hosts in unvaccinated individuals. When they are there, they can mutate which can potentially lead to stronger variants. Our path to stopping more severe variants is through vaccination. Vaccinations reduce our severity of illness, help reduce spread of this virus, and drive it out so more variants can't be formed."
With the current coronavirus vaccine timeline projections, young children could be vaccinated before 2021 is up—and we could be one step closer to a life that's less obsessed with the spread of COVID-19.
"This pandemic has been disruptive in so many ways," says Dr. Allen. "Vaccination is one—perhaps the only—way to return us to normalcy."