With Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine recently approved for children ages 5-11, Norman parents may be wondering when and why to vaccinate their children.
The Food and Drug Administration announced Oct. 29 that children ages 5 to 11 can safely receive the Pfizer vaccine at a lower dose than adults. As Oklahoma opens appointments for pediatric vaccines, here’s what you need to know about vaccinating your kids.
Q: Since adults are generally more at risk of serious COVID cases and death, why should children be vaccinated in the first place?
AN: While it’s true that children don’t die from COVID-19 as quickly as adults, they can still face serious side effects and hospitalization, said Dr. Kate Cook, medical director of Pediatric Hospital Medicine at Norman Regional Health System.
“Children hospitalized with COVID are more likely to stay longer than children hospitalized with the flu, more likely to end up in the ICU and on a ventilator, and we see that otherwise healthy children being hospitalized with COVID,” Cook said. . “Like 32% of kids who were hospitalized didn’t have other health conditions that put them at risk, so it’s still a big impact for kids.”
Initially, COVID-19 infected adults more than children, but now more children are infected with the virus than at the start of the pandemic.
dr. Donna Tyungu, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at OU Health, said during an OU Health livestream event on Tuesday that children accounted for about 3% of COVID-19 cases in early 2020. Now they are about 25% of weekly cases, she said.
Even with pediatric COVID numbers rising and the emergence of the delta variant, the pediatric COVID vaccine is nearly 91% effective in preventing infection in children ages 5-11, the FDA reports.
The COVID-19 vaccine doesn’t just reduce children’s risk of getting COVID, Cook noted — if a child has a breakthrough case, their vaccination makes it less likely that they will be hospitalized or experience a very serious case. dr. Lisa Makil, a pediatric cardiologist at OU Health, said the vaccine, like wearing a mask, provides another level of protection against the virus, hopefully making a breakthrough more like a cold than a serious situation.
Cook also pointed out that by vaccinating your children, you’re not just protecting them — you’re also protecting the people they interact with, whether they’re grandparents, teachers or at-risk children who are more likely to have serious and life-threatening COVID cases.
“Children can certainly spread COVID to people who are more vulnerable,” Cook said. “You think of older adults, but also children in this age group who can now be vaccinated often have younger siblings in the house who cannot be vaccinated. So the more people who can get vaccinated, the more protection there is around the people who can’t.”
Q: What risks might children face if they receive the injection?
AN: Oklahoma pediatricians said the benefits of vaccination far outweigh the potential risks to children.
“Before the FDA and CDC overwhelmingly recommend this kind of thing, it tells us as pediatricians that the benefits far outweigh the risks that vaccines can pose,” Tyungu said.
Getting vaccinated the day after can cause mild side effects – headache, muscle aches, arm pain.
Pediatricians said they’d heard concerns about the vaccine causing myocarditis — inflammation of the heart muscle — but the condition doesn’t seem to be a problem at all for 5- to 11-year-olds. If seen at all, myocarditis after vaccination is very rare, appears to occur mainly in young men, and responds quickly to rest and treatment, the CDC reports.
“This (younger) age group, it’s just not very common for them to have myocarditis in general,” says Makil, the pediatric cardiologist.
On the other hand, being unvaccinated and contracting COVID carries some serious risks. The risk of developing heart problems after COVID infection is greater than the risk of developing myocarditis after the vaccine, The New York Times reports. As of this week, just under 600 people aged 17 and under have died nationwide from COVID, according to the CDC.
Cook said data is still coming in about the long-term effects of COVID on children, but some children can see everything from headaches to brain fog weeks after infection. Kids in athletics may need to get a heart clearance before returning to their sport after a severe COVID infection, she said.
A September report from the CDC explains the risk: At that time, unvaccinated adolescents were 10 times more likely to be hospitalized for COVID as fully vaccinated adolescents ages 12-17, the report said.
“As a hospital doctor, I see kids being hospitalized, and I think one of the most tragic things is when there’s something that could have prevented that,” Cook said.
Q: Should parents vaccinate now, or is it better to wait until more children have been vaccinated?
AN: Oklahoma pediatricians urged parents not to wait; several said they were confident enough in the vaccine and the process that preceded it to have already vaccinated their own children.
The pediatric Pfizer vaccine is approved for emergency use, but that doesn’t mean it skipped steps in its development, Tyungu said.
In fact, Tyungu said the vaccine has gone through all the safety and testing steps that a vaccine would normally do – the emergency use designation only meant that the red tape around the process could be reduced due to the international health emergency. According to the FDA, the vaccine has been tested for safety in 3,100 children.
Cook said she would vaccinate children “immediately”, and she has — all three of her own children have been vaccinated, Cook said.
“I want to get past this awful chapter in our history as much or more than anyone else, so anything I can do to help us get past this faster so my kids can go back to normal childhood is what I want do,” said Cook.
With the holidays approaching and family gatherings imminent, Tyungu said now is actually the perfect time to get vaccinated.
Makil said during the OU Health livestream that her five-year-old daughter was vaccinated shortly after the injection was approved. Makil said that although her daughter was nervous about needles and getting an injection, she had no side effects and is now proud to tell people that she has been vaccinated.
“I think we don’t necessarily use our kids as guinea pigs – I see it as an opportunity for us to really make them safe, help our community, help us move forward in life and get a sense of normalcy ‘ said Makil.
Pediatricians said it is understandable that parents would be cautious, but emphasized that people who understand the science have confidence in the vaccine.
“I just want to confirm if parents feel nervous about this — I think that’s completely understandable, but there are a lot of people who understand all the science behind it who say this is safe.” said Dr. Stephanie DeLeon, a pediatric hospital at OU Health.
Q: Where can I get my child vaccinated?
AN: Oklahoma now offers pediatric vaccine appointment opportunities. Parents can find appointments and availability on the state’s vaccination portal at bit.ly/3nchISV.
Parents from the Normandy area can use IMMY, 2701 Corporate Center Drive, for a quick drive-thru experience. The facility offers free vaccinations for children ages 5 to 11 by appointment, available at immylabs.com.