Bay Area pediatricians urge parents: Don’t wait to vaccinate 5-11 year olds

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. (KRON) — Bay Area pediatricians answered questions worried parents often ask now that COVID-19 vaccines are available for children ages 5-11.

dr. Stephanie Chiang, a pediatrician at Sutter’s Palo Alto Medical Foundation in Fremont, and Dr. Judith Vallero, a pediatrician at Sutter Medical Group in Davis, had one strong message for parents: COVID vaccines are safe and effective for young children.

Chiang and Vallero told a dozen reporters on Friday that they both have children under the age of 12. The pediatricians said they will have their own children vaccinated within a week so they can be fully vaccinated before Christmas.

The vaccine dose given to primary school-age children is only 1/3 of the dose given to adults. The smaller dose is as effective in children as it is in adults who had the full dose, Vallero said.

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Chiang said the sooner 5-11-year-old children are vaccinated, the better.

Q: What do you want parents as pediatricians to know about vaccinating their children?

Chiang: “That this is a very exciting time for our children as we get one step closer to the end of the pandemic. Children can take a big step to protect themselves and their loved ones from COVID. Kids can cuddle during the holidays without fear of giving each other COVID.”

Vallero: “This is a great time for them. Children can help with the health of their families, their communities, keep their schools open and participate in after-school activities.”

Q: What is unique about vaccinations for children 5-11?

Vallero: The optimal dose is 1/3 of the adult dose. Children had a very robust immune response even with the lower dose.

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Q: Is the vaccine safe? What about myocarditis?

Vallero: “Myocarditis is very rare, in which the heart muscle and the lining of the heart are inflamed. (There were) 2.1 cases per 100,000 cases (in 12-16 year olds). There were no long-term side effects. It was very benign. In trials in children ages 5-11, they found no cases of myocarditis. Since it’s a lower dose, they don’t expect to see that. The vaccine is safe and I would recommend it to any 5-11 year old.”

Chiang: “The benefits outweigh the risk. With the damage COVID can do to your organs, we know that the risk from COVID is much greater than the risk from the vaccine itself.”

Vallero: “As of October, 24 percent of our weekly COVID cases in the US have been children.”

Q: My child is almost 12. Should they get the 11-year dose or the 12-year dose?

Vallero: They should be getting the 11 year old dose.

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Q: Should my child be vaccinated if they have COVID?

Chiang: Yes, get vaccinated as soon as you come out of your isolation period.

Q: Why should I have my child vaccinated if children are not severely affected by COVID?

Vallero: “I know many parents are wondering if COVID doesn’t affect children as severely as adults. (However) there are some children who can get very sick from the disease. More than 6.2 million children have tested positive since the start of the pandemic. This year, COVID-related death was one of the leading causes of death for this age group. I really beg (parents) to understand the risks and benefits. There are no major risks and there are huge benefits to this vaccine.”

Q: What about the flu shot? Is it safe to get multiple vaccines with the COVID vaccine?

Chiang: “It’s okay and safe to get multiple vaccines with the COVID vaccine.”

Q: Should I let my child get COVID naturally for natural immunity?

Vallero: “We’re not sure about the robustness of (natural) immunity and whether it even lasts.”

Question: What is the benefit for my children?

Vallero: “There is a big increase in anxiety and depression in our teens and even young children (because schools are closed). This pandemic exposed socioeconomic disparities. Schools were a place where we could provide free meals and after-school care so that our parents could work. The families most affected by school closures were minorities and families with limited resources to start with. Vaccinations will help keep the coronavirus low enough in our communities so that our schools can stay open. Everyone has a part in this pandemic.”

Q: What are you planning for your own children?

Vallero: “My 11 year old couldn’t be happier that he can get it now. We’re going into the holidays. He’ll get his vaccine in a few days. It’s a no brainer. We’ll get it soon. He can’t wait to have his first event with his grandparents before Christmas and the New Year holidays.”

Chiang: “My 9 year old is getting his vaccine and he is excited. We look forward to spending a lot of time with his grandparents. By the time the holidays come, he will be fully vaccinated.”

Q: Where can my child be vaccinated?

Vallero: “Pharmacy, schools, our health systems, and you can go” for more information on availability in your area.”

A 6-year-old girl is comforted by her mother as she receives her first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine from a medical assistant on November 3, 2021. (Photo by JEFF KOWALSKY/AFP via Getty Images)

Q: How can I prepare my child to receive the injection?

Chiang “Talk about it with your child. Ask your child what it needs to feel comfortable. Bring a favorite plush toy. Hold their hand.”

Question: If children are fully vaccinated, do students still have to wear face masks at school?

Chiang: “It depends on the vaccination rate. Hopefully, the data shows that we can indeed remove the masks. That decision is up to the state, county and school districts.”

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