Parents are likely to learn around Halloween whether the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for 5- to 11-year-old children. While some families are champing at the bit to schedule their kids’ first shot, polling suggests many remain hesitant.
But parents should feel confident getting their young children vaccinated as soon as the FDA gives the green light and it becomes available, said Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine pediatric experts Dr. Nina Alfieri and Dr. Jennifer Kusma, both of whom are advanced general pediatric and primary care physicians at the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago.
“Vaccinating this group of children is going to be helpful for them staying in school, getting back to their routines, protecting their grandparents and allowing their parents to keep working and doing their interests and daily activities,” Alfieri said. “Kids thrive on consistency. Protecting children with vaccination is an important step in helping break the cycle of kids needing frequent PCR testing and quarantining with each sick symptom they have. This could allow children to have a more consistent routine in addition to protecting their physical health.”
‘Kids thrive on consistency’
“We want kids in school and socializing because we know that’s so important for mental health,” Kusma said. “Hopefully this vaccine is going to be the thing that keeps us from pulling kids out of school for extended periods of time due to necessary quarantines for potential exposures or sick symptoms. This is our best chance to get to whatever this post-COVID normal is going to look like. The more we can protect the community, with children making up a significant proportion of the population, the more likely we are going to be to go into that world.”
Need to equip parents ‘paralyzed in fear’ with accurate vaccine information
“Parents love their kids and they want the best for them, so when we hear parents are concerned or hesitant about the COVID vaccine, we need to remember that there is a lot of misinformation out there, and it’s easy to get paralyzed in fear without the right information,” said Alfieri, who gives a monthly lecture to Feinberg medical students on vaccine safety and how to counsel parents with accurate information on vaccines. “That’s why we need to give parents the information they need to make the best decision for their child.”
That information should come from trusted sources, such as the parent information section of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website or the American Academy of Pediatrics’ healthychildren.org site, or your child’s pediatrician or care provider, Alfieri said.
“We as pediatricians want to be a source to answer your questions or talk about your concerns regarding the COVID-19 vaccine,” Kusma said. “We know this is a big decision for families, and pediatricians are preparing themselves by reading available information about the vaccine so we can help.”
“This is the most studied vaccine in the history of vaccines,” Alfieri said. “There’s a lot of transparency in this process and that is a good thing that should help foster trust.”
Must dispel the myth that young children aren’t impacted by COVID
“Even though COVID has been more severe for adults and people with underlying conditions, kids have definitely been affected and hospitalized,” Alfieri said. “We’re seeing a wide range of symptoms in young children, including respiratory problems and Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome (MIS-C). Even after being hospitalized or for those who are not hospitalized, there is this phenomenon of long COVID, which includes fatigue, brain fog, etc. We know that vaccines can help decrease COVID infections and serious complications from COVID. If you don’t get COVID, you can’t get long COVID or other complications from the infection.”
Vaccine dosage for this age group will be smaller
“It’s looking like children 5-11 years old will be recommended to receive a smaller dose than individuals 12 years and older, which is in some ways not surprising. We’ve seen this with other immunizations where it is beneficial to give it to younger kids as they have a better immune response to take up vaccine,” Kusma said. “One example of this is if a child gets the HPV vaccine before they turn 15 years old, their immune system only requires them to have two doses compared to three.”