Recently the Pfizer vaccine was authorized for children ages 12 to 15, and, at the time of this writing, Moderna is now seeking FDA emergency authorization for this age group as well. With this in mind –– and as a family physician –– one of the most common questions I hear from patients is why should I get my child vaccinated?
Risk vs. benefits
There is a misconception that children are not affected by COVID-19. While children may not display overt symptoms of the virus, it is possible for them to transmit to others, and they can play a role in the asymptomatic spread of the virus, leading to an increase in the number of cases, hospitalization, and death. Additionally, children ages 12-15 may transmit the virus as readily as adults, which can lead to an increase in COVID cases.
Additionally, there have been children who have experienced complications and conditions such as multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MIS-C), a condition with lasting effects that could inhibit children from participating in regular activities.
With the summer approaching, the vaccine would provide reassurance that children 12+ are not transmitting it to others, including other younger household members, grandparents, those with compromised immune systems, or those who are not eligible to receive the vaccine. It also provides hope they can return to participating in summer camps, visiting their loved ones, and enjoying other summer activities.
Back to school
Getting children vaccinated now also provides protection for the school year. When they’re back in school, there is an increased risk of possible transmission as the COVID-19 virus is highly contagious. By having your child vaccinated, you are allowing them to enter the school year with a layer of protection that decreases the risk of them getting sick.
Is it safe?
The clinical trial enrolled more than 2,000 participants ages 12 to 15, with half of the participants receiving a vaccine dose and the other half a saline placebo. The participants were followed and closely monitored for at least two months to ensure their safety following the second dose. They found that the vaccine’s efficacy was consistent across teens and adults. The trials also showed that there were no known differences across age groups and that there weren’t any real adverse outcomes. As a parent and a physician, this provided me with a level of reassurance that vaccine is safe for children ages 12 and up.
Overall, the side effects of the vaccine for adolescents –– like adults –– aren’t long-term but rather very fleeting and include arm pain, fatigue, body aches, and overall malaise.
Recently, a small number of cases of myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle) were documented after the second dose of Pfizer of Moderna vaccine. Though this is currently being investigated, recent reports do not show any correlation between the vaccine and the onset of myocarditis and reinforces that findings may be incidental.
At this time, the proportion of myocarditis in young people receiving the vaccine is lower than the average number of cases associated with the diagnosis. We know COVID-19 directly attacks the lungs and heart in both young and older people. The risk of developing myocarditis or long-term complication is greater if you contract COVID-19.
Talking to teens
The pandemic’s effect on society has been multifaceted, affecting our mental, economic, and environmental norms. I encourage parents to have a conversation with their teens and listen to their thoughts and fears about the coronavirus. It’s essential to promote an open dialogue and discuss COVID-19 and the benefits of the vaccine. I am confident about vaccinating this age range as it will allow children to feel a sense of return to normalcy and help keep their friends and family safe.
I would also recommend that parents themselves are informed about the vaccine. Talk to your family doctor and ask questions. There are also reputable sources available, including NVCovidFighter.org, that includes CDC recommendations and current information on the vaccines in Nevada.
Dr. Bayo Curry-Winchell, M.D., M.S., is a board-certified, practicing family physician based in Reno, where she serves as Regional Clinical Director for Carbon Health and Medical Director for Saint Mary’s Medical Group. Dr. Curry-Winchell is dedicated to highlighting healthcare disparities and is a member of the Mayor’s task force on COVID-19.