On Monday, the Biden administration said it is collecting and shipping millions of COVID-19 vaccine doses for children ages 5-11. And since the first injections may be given in a matter of days, local pediatrician Dr. Daniel Rauch that he has heard from many parents who want to protect not only their children, but also their children’s teachers, grandparents and those around them who may not be able to get vaccinated. Still, he said, there are those who have questions or even doubts about vaccinating young children when weighing the risk of COVID infection against the risk of vaccination — risks that cannot be compared.
GBH News reporter Mark Herz spoke Monday with Rauch, the chief of Pediatric Hospital Medicine at Tufts Children’s Hospital. And Rauch said there are good answers to any questions parents might have with the impending vaccine rollout. The following transcript has been edited for clarity.
Mark Herz: There are people who wonder if children should be vaccinated, or if they are taking a wait and see approach. Perhaps they are concerned about side effects – including what appears to be misinformation about alleged future fertility effects. What would you like to say to them?
dr. Daniel Rauch: The correct answers are that the vaccines are incredibly safe for the entire population. I mean, remarkably safe. This will go back to being one of the most important biomedical engineering feats of all time: to get this done so quickly, get it out and get this kind of safety profile — and efficacy, for that matter, because it really works.
So the concerns people have about very rare events are probably true for just about any medical intervention out there. We just don’t hear about those rare occurrences in other circumstances. So let’s take the two that are in the foreground. There’s the fertility problem, which seems to have no basis at the moment. It is under investigation; the complaints are that it affects the menstrual cycle. So that shouldn’t be a problem. Anyone who is premenstrual, I don’t know why you would want to worry about the menstrual cycle in a five or six year old.
The other problem is the heart problem. That’s real now. There is a known side effect of some heart problems. It is about one in 10,000 in a population at risk. So it’s not everyone. It’s the young adult men. The disease we see is very mild. These kids get better right away and don’t seem to have any long-term complications at all.
We know that the heart risk of getting COVID is higher than that. We know that in that case the effects last for weeks to months, if not longer. We don’t have a good feeling about how long-distance COVID is in children because we don’t know that time frame yet.
So there is no doubt that getting the vaccine and being protected is safer than risking getting infected with COVID.
Herz: And speaking of being infected with COVID, what about those people who think, why does my child need a vaccine? Either because young children don’t get sick, or maybe there are people who think, “My child has already been exposed and not vaccinated, don’t they already have natural immunity?”
Rauch: You don’t have natural immunity until you get the disease. Now your child may have a very mild or asymptomatic illness, and you wouldn’t know that unless you get a blood test done on them. And even then, we don’t know how protective that is for your child, because people have gotten repeated COVID.
And while COVID in children is usually a mild illness or no illness at all, it’s not all children. It remains a risk. We still see children in the hospital with it. You still see children with it in ICUs all over the country. There have been pediatric deaths.
I mean, this is the same conversation for chickenpox and chickenpox parties. Why would you give your children a disease that could harm them? And while the odds of your child dying from chickenpox or COVID are exceptionally slim — I agree — it’s not zero. So why not give them protection to get it as close to zero as possible?
Herz: What are other reasons for parents to have their children vaccinated?
Rauch: What I also want to add is: your children are part of society, and as members of society we owe each other a number of duties to protect each other. And even if COVID was mild in your child, you could spread it to someone who could actually get sick.
And how could you live with yourself if your child gave a disease to someone and they died from it, and you know you could have protected them and prevented this from happening? I just find it remarkable that people are willing to put other people at risk.
And we’re doing this for other vaccines that aren’t necessarily designed to protect the person who gets it, but to protect the person who gets it from spreading it to other people. So part of the MMR [measles, mumps and Rubella] vaccine is rubella. Rubella is a mild disease in children and does not actually cause any harm. But you protect the children so that they do not infect a pregnant woman because the fetus can get a devastating disease, and no one doubts there. That’s just part of our duty. We do, and that’s what we need to do for this vaccine.
Herz: Are there any other concerns with children right now?
Rauch: We’re seeing a resurgence of all the viral stuff out there, and the flu is bad for the very young and the very old. So we are afraid of the coming flu season.
And children should have all their vaccinations, and people have postponed their vaccinations during the pandemic because they were afraid of going to health care facilities. You can get your vaccinations with the flu vaccine, which every child should get, and any other vaccines you are behind. So talk to your pediatrician and make sure you get all available vaccines.