The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced on Friday that Pfizer Inc and BioNTech’s coronavirus vaccine is authorized for emergency use in children age five to 11 years old, meaning that now parents who have eagerly been awaiting the opportunity to vaccinate their kids can.
“As a mother and a physician, I know that parents, caregivers, school staff, and children have been waiting for today’s authorization. Vaccinating younger children against COVID-19 will bring us closer to returning to a sense of normalcy,” said Acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock, M.D. in a statement following the announcement of the authorization. “Our comprehensive and rigorous evaluation of the data pertaining to the vaccine’s safety and effectiveness should help assure parents and guardians that this vaccine meets our high standards.”
However, earlier this fall, as kids began to head back to school, parents opened up about their concerns about vaccinating their children against COVID-19 — and SheKnows got in touch with doctors who could comfortably address each of those concerns.
And those doctors agree, hesitancy and concern is understandable — but overwhelmingly they are confident in the benefits and safety of the vaccine and the potential public health harms of COVID-19 continuing to spread and mutate.
“It is the most visceral of instincts to be fiercely protective of our children,” said Dr. Noah Greenspan, a cardiopulmonary physical therapist who has been treating COVID-19 long haulers since August of last year in New York. “Even when we do our best to do everything right, things can still go wrong.”
But with an American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) report from this summer finding that 72,000 more children in the United States have tested positive for the virus in the last week, the decision to vaccinate children as it’s made available is becoming a crucial one from a public health perspective. Anotehr report from Sameday Health found that one in three parents with children 11 or younger said they will definitely have their children vaccinated. While 40 percent said they probably would, 26 percent said they either probably or definitely would not give their kids the vaccine.
A lot of worry can come down to a simple lack of communication between parents and their pediatricians; Having an open dialogue or even initiating a conversation is vital to feeling comfortable and safe in the decisions you make for your children.
Kaylen Schroeder, a Gainesville, Florida resident and mom, says she would vaccinate her one-year-old son as soon as it was approved, but that approval is important.
“To feel comfortable with the vaccination we would have to have large health organizations approve the vaccine for his age and want to hear the opinion of other independent scientists,” she said. “I think the opinion of an infectious disease pharmacist would also be beneficial.”
So what other concerns do parents have when it comes to the COVID-19 vaccine? What common questions are being raised? We asked a few moms and then spoke to two doctors who’ve been treating COVID-19 for the last year. Here’s what they had to say:
“I’m concerned about the lack of time the vaccine has had to show long-term effects.”
This might be the most common concern among any age group when it comes to getting vaccinated, but Dr. Greenspan argues you have to compare risks versus benefits.
“Think of it like this. Let’s say you and your child are being chased by a hungry lion and you come to a wall,” he said. “You don’t exactly know what’s on the other side of the wall and there is inherent risk in climbing the wall. But you do know what is on this side of the wall. It is an excruciating choice, I understand, but this is where we have to weigh relative risks.”
He adds that timing is essential when it comes to ending the pandemic, and that there is also a time where we have to put the good of the herd above the individual.
Dr. Mary T. Jacobson, Chief Medical Officer at Alpha Medical points back to the polio vaccine and how the MMR vaccine saved numerous lives.
“We do not remember a time when children died of measles or were put in an iron lung because of polio, because of our vaccination programs,” she said. “These are vaccine preventable diseases that are still seen in low and middle income countries that do not have access to vaccines.”
“I’m weighing the cost-benefit. My child is lower-risk, and all around healthy, so I’d rather wait and see how things shake out before I get them vaccinated.”
Anyone can transmit COVID-19, regardless of vaccination status. So doctors agree that getting the vaccine as soon as possible is best for everyone’s health and safety.
“The COVID Delta variant is mostly a disease of the unvaccinated,” said Dr. Jacobson. “When there are Delta outbreaks in schools this fall, there will be a lot of disruption to the children’s lives and the parents’ lives that could have been prevented. This will be hard on the kids’ mental health. That is why the American Academy of Pediatrics really recommends vaccination.”
Another reason doctors agree that the cost-benefit is greater in getting vaccinated, is to protect the broader community. As students head back into crowded hallways and classrooms, and are around more people, the virus can be transmitted quicker and more frequently without vaccination.
“The more people that get vaccinated, the less chance that people will get COVID,” said Dr. Greenspan. “The less people that get vaccinated and the longer we wait, the more people will get COVID. That is the nature of viruses.”
“I’m worried about how the vaccine might affect my child’s heart. Heart inflammation is a side effect for some who get vaccinated.”
Since April 2021, there have been more than a thousand reports of cases of myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle) and pericarditis (inflammation of the lining outside the heart) happening after some COVID-19 vaccinations in the United States, according to the CDC.
But as the numbers show, myocarditis from the vaccines is rare. Dr. Jacobson says that it occurs mostly in teen boys, but it does resolve within a few days with non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory drugs like Advil or Motrin.
Fewer overall infections among the population means less chance of dangerous coronavirus variants forming, and doctors agree that heart inflammation is a side effect that is completely treatable.
“It is an extremely valid concern,” said Dr. Greenspan. “And while the decision is still a tough one, one consideration is that we know much more about treating inflammation, especially if we are looking for it. Monitoring for signs and symptoms and acting quickly if they are present.“
Parents want to do what is best for their child and, in short, having concerns is understandable and expected. Asking questions and including your child in the learning process is important. Lyndsey Howe, a mother of two in Colchester, Vermont said she has a lot of faith in the efficacy of the vaccine, and felt it was important her daughter be there when she was vaccinated.
“It’s never been a question if we would get the vaccine and the same for my kids,” she said. “We even had our four-year-old hold our hands while we received the injection so that she could see it didn’t hurt and ‘how brave we were.’ If you look at the science and the stats, it shows how well the vaccines are working.”
Ultimately, doctors agree that the best way to prevent COVID-19 is to get vaccinated if you are eligible. Risks are a part of every vaccine, but history has shown that they do far more good than harm.
“There will unquestionably be some risks and some side effects, and some will potentially be serious,“ said Dr. Greenspan. “However, based on what I have seen and knowing everything I know about COVID, I know I would much rather protect myself against it.”
A version of this story was published August 2021 and updated October 2021 following the vaccine getting emergency use authorization from the FDA.
Before you go, check out these natural cold remedies for kids: