FAQs: COVID Vaccines for Kids
The American Academy of Pediatrics, The Vermont Child Health Improvement Program, and Vermont’s Department of Health and Agency of Education are joining pediatricians around the state and throughout the country to encourage families to get vaccinated against COVID-19. Officials from each organization understand that parents have questions and may not have access to reliable and accurate information about vaccines. Here are the most common questions we get and how we answer them.
It doesn’t seem like kids get very sick with COVID. Why should I vaccinate?
More than 6 million kids have gotten COVID since the start of the pandemic, and this number is rapidly increasing. Some have gotten really sick and even ended up hospitalized. They can also spread COVID to others. The vaccine helps prevent both illness severity and spread of the virus. Getting vaccinated keeps schools open and keeps activities going, which is good for our kids mental and emotional wellbeing. Finally, if we control the spread of the virus with vaccines, masks, and other mitigation measures, the virus will not have as great an opportunity replicate and change.
We are taught that “natural is better.” It seems like natural immunity would be better too, right?
When it comes to peanut butter, natural is better. To get natural immunity, though, you have to get sick, and you could get really sick. Natural immunity doesn’t last as long as vaccine-derived immunity. We also do not know potential long-term effects of COVID infection, which are scarier to many medical doctors and scientists than getting the vaccine itself.
Is the vaccine safe?
Yes. Millions of kids have been vaccinated. There have been no safety concerns. The COVID vaccine is just like the vaccines children get to protect them from other illnesses, like the measles and whooping cough. The COVID vaccine went through a safety review very similar to the safety review our trusted vaccines went through. It went faster, because everyone was working on it at the same time and there were lots of eager volunteers for the study. There were no corners cut and the vaccine wasn’t “rushed.” The vaccine does not result in long-term effects, as it does not stay in the body. The vaccine is an mRNA protein, which is like a “recipe” to teach the immune system how to make antibodies (protection) against COVID infection. The protein is quickly broken down by our body after injection. It does not stay in our system.
Does it work?
In the initial trial of the Pfizer vaccine include 2,268 children. A third, 756 kids, got a placebo, an inert substance that scientists knew would not prevent COVID. The remaining kids, 1,512, got the vaccine. At the end of the study, 16 unvaccinated children got COVID. Only three of the vaccinated kids did. While the vaccine did not prevent COVID entirely, it did significantly reduce the vaccinated kids’ chance of getting the disease.
What are the side effects?
The biggest side effect is protection, and we definitely want that. Most kids will have nothing more than an arm that is a little sore at the injection site. A few will get a fever, chills, or tiredness. Side effects from COVID-19 vaccines are normal signs that your body is building up protection. These side effects are much less severe and last a far shorter time than symptoms of COVID. Parents often ask about myocarditis (inflammation of the heart) as a side effect. There is a very small risk of this occurring in teenage boys after the vaccine; however, the risk of myocarditis is much smaller with vaccination than it is after infection. Also, myocarditis after vaccination is less severe and shorter than myocarditis caused by infection. There is no evidence that the COVID vaccine affects reproduction in males or females.
What are the risks of not getting vaccinated?
Illness. Many kids will have mild illness, but a few could get really sick and need hospital care. Some people who get COVID have symptoms that don’t go away for a long time. This could affect their ability to play sports or participate in other activities. A few kids could experience heart inflammation (myocarditis) or swelling of their organs called multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MIS-C).
What questions do you have? Your pediatrician wants you to ask them questions about the COVID vaccine if you have them. We will listen to your concerns and provide up-to-date medical information. Please call the office if you have further questions.
Meghan Gunn, MD, is the chair of the Department of Pediatrics at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center, part of Southwestern Vermont Health Care, in Bennington.