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Local Pediatricians Address Parents’ Concerns About COVID Vaccines for Kids

After and leading up to the Food and Drug Administration’s approval of the COVID-19 vaccination for children under 12 years old last fall, some parents were excited, while others were concerned. Two Calvert pediatricians, Dr. Bethany God and Dr. Monica Mehta address some of the common concerns about the COVID-19 vaccine and children.

Q. What are the risks and benefits of COVID vaccination for children?

Dr. God: The risks are the same as adults for short-term side effects. The vast majority of people only have a sore arm. That’s the same as the placebo. Mild side effects the first few days are the biggest risks. Myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle) happens to a very small percentage of adolescents and young men and has been mild. Myocarditis is 30 times more likely if you were to get COVID.

Dr. Mehta: I keep hearing COVID doesn’t affect children but that’s simply not true. Pediatric COVID cases have been surging over the past few months, and there have been over 600 pediatric deaths from COVID in the U.S. While the risk of death from COVID is still relatively low, no parent should lose their child from something that can be prevented with a vaccine. Everything in life has a risk-benefit ratio. When it comes to the COVID vaccine, the benefit is huge: you are not only protecting yourself from severe disease, but also protecting your family and community by helping stop the spread of this deadly virus. Vaccines continue to reduce your risk of catching COVID. Vaccines are still highly effective at preventing hospitalization and death from COVID.

Q. What kinds of medical conditions do you recommend that parents have a conversation with the pediatrician before proceeding with COVID vaccination?

Dr. God: If your child is on an immunosuppressant or on chemotherapy. There are really no other health conditions that would make me say they aren’t a good candidate for the vaccine.

Dr. Mehta: Honestly, very few. The only contraindications to getting a COVID vaccine are if you had anaphylaxis with the first dose or one of the vaccine ingredients. The COVID vaccines do not contain heavy metals, formaldehyde, gluten, eggs, wheat, fetal cells, preservatives, latex, or microchips. Most underlying medical conditions are reasons to get the vaccine because those underlying conditions place your child at risk of more severe disease if they were to catch COVID.

Q. How does vaccination status of parents, family and caregivers impact their children’s health?

Dr. God: It certainly decreases the likelihood the child would get the disease. We are encouraging all families to have all eligible adults in the house get the vaccine. It’s common for children to get COVID from a family member. Kids can get sick from COVID and have long-term consequences. So, the less likely they’re exposed, the better.

Q. How do you as a pediatrician stay up to date on current research about COVID-19, vaccination, and vaccination of children?

Dr. Mehta: We are constantly reading! Our sources are not Google. Rather, we get our information directly from scientific journals and trusted sources like the American Academy of Pediatrics as well as attending seminars by leading pediatricians, immunologists, vaccine experts and scientists. It’s also mandatory that board-certified physicians keep up to date on multiple topics every year (not just COVID but many other pediatric topics because science is always helping us provide better and better care).

Q. What is a pediatrician’s role when it comes to educating families about COVID vaccination?

Dr. God: It’s essential because we have the best access to the latest information. We have training in medical school and our residency on how to look at data and interpret it. It puts us in a better position to interpret data when it comes out and educate patients and their families about their health.

Q. Figures are often cited about the low number of children who have lasting effects from COVID-19 infection or death. How much of an impact should these factors be when considering vaccination?

Dr. Mehta: It’s all about transmission. Getting vaccinated stops the chain of transmission and prevents the virus from being able to use your body to make new variants. Just because children are less likely to die or have severe side effects from COVID doesn’t mean they shouldn’t get vaccinated. The vaccine helps reduce and prevent the spread of COVID. Kids can still spread COVID. So, getting the vaccine helps them break the chain of transmission to others. Getting the vaccine helps prevent new variants from emerging. Unvaccinated people make perfect hosts for virus transmission and allow viruses to mutate and make new variants.

Q. Some parents have concerns about a fast timeline for vaccine, research, approval and rollout. How do you respond when parents express this kind of concern?

Dr. God: The actual length of the trials is the same as other vaccine trials. The process has been expedited but not the trials. It’s streamlining the approval process. The actual study has been done safely and appropriately.

Dr. Mehta: They did make this vaccine quickly! But that doesn’t mean you should be concerned it wasn’t thoroughly researched and evaluated. Some information was already known. The technology used in these vaccines has been around for decades. The protein structure of COVID’s spike protein has been known for years. Trials on COVID vaccines were able to be done quickly because there are so many cases of COVID. So, researchers were able to test the effectiveness of the vaccine easily compared to other vaccine trials. Also, companies prioritized this research over research on other things during the pandemic! The FDA expedited the review process. This doesn’t mean they skipped any steps. Remember the FDA re-analyzes the data companies provide as a double-check process.

Q. What if a child already had COVID-19? Do they already have antibodies against it?

Dr. God: When they studied people who had COVID, how quickly their immunity drops varies wildly between people. Many children who have been tested 3-6 months after having COVID have undetectable antibody levels. In adults, there is a better immune response for those who had COVID and got vaccinated afterward, and a more predictable immunity. Absolutely, the recommendation is even if your child has had COVID to still get vaccinated and follow the same schedule.
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