As physicians in Montana caring for children, we strongly and unreservedly recommend that all newly eligible children — as well as all teens and adults — receive a COVID vaccine.
Vaccination is a tool to train your immune system to recognize a virus or bacteria before you are exposed to it. After you or your child receives a COVID vaccination, your body’s own immune cells can do a much more effective job of protecting you from disease.
Vaccination gives your body an edge and avoids all the risks and complications associated with infection.
While COVID is clearly most dangerous for older people, it poses real risks to children.
There is a myth that COVID does not harm children.
Sadly, that couldn’t be further from the truth. For many children, the illness associated with COVID is mild. However, that is not always the case. More than 700 children have died from COVID in the US
In fact, after the Delta spike last month, COVID rose to become the 6th leading cause of death for children in the 5-11 age group.
This is the group that is only now eligible for the vaccine.
Severe illness with COVID is not limited to children with chronic conditions: Looking at hospital admissions in the 5-11 age group, more than 30% had NO underlying condition.
Also, many of the effects of COVID are difficult to predict. MIS-C, a serious inflammatory condition, can occur weeks after recovery from COVID, even if the initial illness is asymptomatic or mild.
You may also have heard of long-term COVID, which consists of symptoms that last longer than four weeks, such as fatigue, headaches, insomnia, difficulty concentrating, muscle and joint pain, and activity limitations.
It is estimated that 7-8% of infected children suffer from long-term COVID – less than in the adult age groups, but still a fairly large number overall.
Aside from medical complications, COVID has disrupted our entire lives. In many ways, children have borne the greatest burden of that disruption. It is estimated that 140,000 children in the US have lost a caregiver to COVID.
The number of fears and depressions due to loss, insecurity and social isolation has increased.
Schools in Montana have struggled this year with the spread of COVID, with at least 21 having to temporarily suspend personal learning due to sick staff and spreading among students. Many more students had to stay home because of their own illness or exposure. Both students and teachers have suffered from the nuisance this causes.
For these reasons and others, we are excited that more children will soon be protected.
The vaccine we have is very, very good. Data collected in studies show a 90.7% efficacy rate in preventing symptomatic infection in children in this age group, even with the Delta variant circulating. The dose for 5-11 year olds is one-third the dose for adults, and safety monitoring showed that the most common side effects were fatigue, headache or muscle aches.
No serious side effects were found in the study for this age group, and even fever and chills were less common in children than in adults.
Myocarditis, or inflammation of the heart, is a very rare but potentially serious side effect of COVID vaccination and is sometimes seen in teenage boys. With the smaller dose in this younger age group, we hope to see less myocarditis.
For teenage boys, it’s important to put the risk of myocarditis into context: myocarditis due to COVID infection itself is much more common than myocarditis due to the vaccine, and COVID-associated myocarditis appears to have a more severe course.
With Delta’s increased transmissibility, the choice is increasingly between getting COVID (or having a second bout of COVID, for some) and getting vaccinated.
We know that COVID will be with us for a while. It is not easy to control. All our efforts last year – distancing, masking, washing hands, ventilation – have resulted in almost completely eliminating the transmission of the flu.
But we still saw COVID exploiting any gaps in this layered protection. With Delta’s increased transmissibility, the choice is increasingly between getting COVID and getting vaccinated.
Vaccination is the strongest shield to add to our self-protection, and as Montana physicians, we urge you to keep your family healthy by using it.
Montana Chapter, American Academy of Pediatrics, Montana Academy of Family Physicians, Montana Primary Care Association, Montana Nurses Association