by Mona Gahunia
On Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that all children 5 to 11 receive the low-dose COVID-19 vaccine made by Pfizer-BioNTech, clearing the way for shots to begin as early as late last week.
Yet a recent Kaiser Family Foundation study indicates that one-third of parents plan to take a wait-and-see approach for their children.
As a mom of two elementary school-aged boys, I know every parent’s priority is keeping their children healthy and safe. And, as a physician, I understand why some parents have concerns about a new vaccine. I’ve spent time carefully reviewing the data and talking with my children and their father about the vaccine. And I want to share the facts that helped us make our decision to vaccinate our boys as soon as possible.
It has been more than 10 months since the first COVID-19 vaccines were distributed. Most individuals, including adolescents age 12 to 15, reported mild, if any, side effects. Studies have shown that even those who experienced aches and pains fully recovered within a day or two. The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine that millions have received is the same vaccine being approved for children 5-to-11 years old. The difference is that children will receive a lower dose. The dosing was designed to give full benefits while reducing risks for rare side effects. In fact, there were no cases of pericarditis or myocarditis for this age group in the clinical trial.
We know COVID-19 can result in serious illness, and ultimately many adults who did not get vaccinated became gravely ill and requested the vaccine too late. While most of the COVID-19 cases in children have been mild, an increasing number of children has been hospitalized during the Delta variant surge. In the past six weeks, children accounted for more than 1.1 million cases of COVID-19. Children can develop serious complications, including a dangerous condition referred to as Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children (MIS-C). Some also suffer long-haul symptoms. Therefore, it’s important to vaccinate children as soon as the vaccine is available.
Data submitted to the Food and Drug Administration detailing the safety and efficacy of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine in children ages 5 to 11 indicate that the vaccine was nearly 91% effective at preventing symptomatic disease in this age group. That’s excellent news, but we should keep in mind that it takes weeks for a full immune response to build in the body after the second dose. Time is of the essence for anyone planning winter travel and family gatherings. We’re all eager to get back to normal, with fewer masking and social distancing protocols.
Getting children vaccinated as soon as possible will make schools and indoor activities safer for everyone, particularly amid continued COVID-19 mutation. We have all seen how devastating the Delta variant has been. With new variants emerging, we continue to face the risk of another surge from more virulent forms of COVID-19. It is possible that future strains of the virus will require a modified vaccine. You do not want your child to miss a vaccine cycle and risk lacking the necessary immune response and face a stronger version of the virus without protection.
Vaccination also protects others. My children are ready and excited to be vaccinated. For over a year, we have been talking about why vaccines are important to protect ourselves and to help protect vulnerable individuals like grandparents.
Like many of you we missed family gatherings last year. We now have a powerful tool to protect our children and make cherished traditions and precious time together safer. When given the opportunity, I plan to vaccinate my children as soon as possible, and I hope you will too.
Mona Gahunia is a board-certified internal medicine and infectious diseases physician with the Mid-Atlantic Permanente Medical Group and sees patients at the Kaiser Permanente South Baltimore Medical Center.