In case you missed the news, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has officially, and unanimously, approved of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for anyone 5 years and older.
Shortly after the announcement, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a statement supporting the approval and encouraging vaccination for all kids 5 and up.
This couldn’t come at a better time: Adult cases of COVID-19 are slowly coming back down from the delta variant wave, but cases in children remain steady and high. While the approval comes as a great relief for many anxious parents, many moms and dads I have spoken with recently remain hesitant to get their children vaccinated – even those kids over 12 years old, who were approved for the shot months ago.
There’s no better time than now to soothe these anxieties and discuss the vaccine in detail.
Right now, only the Pfizer vaccine is approved for children. Moderna has been testing its vaccine in adolescents, but the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has delayed approval because of a possible – and very rare – side effect observed in young adult males. Similarly, Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine remains approved only for adults. J&J is still in the trial phase for kids 12 and older.
The two main questions parents ask me: Is the vaccine effective for kids? And is it safe to give kids?
The answer to both questions is a resounding yes.
The preliminary data for Pfizer suggest that the vaccine is over 90% effective for kids 5 years old and up and is very effective against the delta strain. The approved dose for younger kids is a third of the dose for adults, making side effects less common and more minor (these may include fatigue, soreness and fever).
Very rare incidents of myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart, are the main concern for the delay in the approval for the Moderna vaccine in teenagers. That potential side effect has not been a concern with the Pfizer vaccine. The very rare cases of myocarditis seen in adults after getting the vaccine have been mild and typically resolve on their own. The risk of myocarditis is actually higher in adults who get COVID-19 than in adults who get vaccinated. And those who get the illness with COVID-19 typically see more serious cases.
Many kids and parents may believe the vaccine is unnecessary right now because fewer children are severely ill from COVID compared to adults. While this is true, there have been more cases of COVID-19 in children and more children hospitalized with the delta wave. Some children who have been sick with COVID have developed serious complications. And even kids with only mild symptoms can infect older family members who are at-risk, even if they have been vaccinated.
While in school, kids are much more likely to be exposed to the virus, especially younger children who often struggle with wearing a mask or socially distancing. Therefore, even though the risk of serious disease is low in kids, there is still a large benefit to vaccination.
Vaccines are crucial to helping children – and all of us – return to a normal life. For kids, that means school sports, social activities and other pre-pandemic lifestyles. That also means huge benefits to our children’s mental health and overall well-being.
Any new vaccine can be scary for both kids and parents. It’s normal to have concerns and questions. However, the Pfizer vaccine has been shown to be very safe and extremely effective for kids of all ages.
Widespread vaccination of all school-aged children will allow many more families the opportunity to stay safe while taking one large step closer to a normal life.
Dr. Laura Shefner writes about pediatric care for the Cleveland Jewish News. She is a pediatrician at The MetroHealth System and practices in Beachwood and Parma.