As a pediatric infectious disease expert, Dr. LoRanée Braun has closely followed the development of the COVID-19 vaccines and the ongoing clinical trials.
“I have three teenage children, and I had no hesitancy in getting them vaccinated because I believe in the science, and I believe in the safety,” she says. “My hope is that I can reassure families to do the same for their children.”
Dr. Braun and other pediatricians at Eugene Pediatric Associates talk with parents daily who want to know more about the vaccines, especially now that the FDA has granted emergency use authorization to the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine in children 12-15 years old. The Centers for Disease Control Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices is also recommending use of the vaccine in this age group. The FDA’s authorization increases the likelihood that schools in the U.S. will fully reopen in the fall.
Studying the COVID-19 vaccine in children
The FDA’s newest authorization of the vaccine was granted after Pfizer conducted a clinical trial of 2,260 children ages 12-15. The company reports that the vaccine was found to be 100% effective in this age group. The shot was also well-tolerated, with side effects generally consistent with flu-like symptoms seen in adults.
“The body’s immune system is primed with the first dose of the vaccine, so a more robust immune response is expected with the second dose,” Dr. Braun says. “It’s not uncommon to have flu-like symptoms, arm soreness, fatigue, but most people see those symptoms go away in one to two days.”
Should I get my child vaccinated?
Some parents question whether children need to be vaccinated since the virus tends to be less severe in younger people. Dr. Braun says while most kids are at a lower risk, they can, in some cases, become very ill with multisystem inflammatory syndrome, which causes inflammation of various organs, including the heart, lungs, kidneys and brain.
Since the start of the pandemic in the U.S., Dr. Braun says 3,742 cases of multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children have been reported and 35 of those kids have died. “I think that is reason enough to get your child protected with the vaccine.”
Children make up around 20% of the total U.S. population, so vaccinating them against COVID-19 is considered crucial to ending the pandemic. Dr. Braun and other health experts believe the nation is unlikely to achieve herd immunity until children can get vaccinated.
“In order for us to achieve herd immunity, we need to reach anywhere from 70-85% immunity among our population,” she says. “And because we won’t reach that with adults alone, either because people are not good candidates for the vaccine or they refuse the vaccine, children need to be part of the equation.”
Separating facts from myths
There is a lot of misinformation circulating online and on social media about the COVID-19 vaccines. Dr. Braun encourages parents to seek out credible, evidence-based information when deciding whether to vaccinate their children. The Centers for Disease Control addresses myths vs. facts about the vaccines here.
If you have questions about vaccinating your child against COVID-19, talk with your pediatrician. “They will be able to help guide and direct you with information specific to your child’s health,” Dr. Braun says.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) supports giving other childhood and adolescent immunizations at the same time as COVID-19 vaccines, particularly for children and teens who are behind on their immunizations.
In a recent statement, the AAP said, “Between the substantial data collected on the safety of COVID-19 vaccines, and the extensive experience with non-COVID-19 vaccines, which shows the immune response and side effects are generally similar when vaccines are given together as when they are administered alone, the benefits of co-administration and timely catch up on vaccinations outweigh any theoretical risk.”
What’s next for COVID vaccination in children?
Studies on the coronavirus vaccine in kids are ongoing. Pfizer is expected to apply for emergency use of its vaccine in children ages 2-11 in September 2021. Moderna and Johnson & Johnson, whose vaccines are authorized for people 18 and older, are also testing their shots in younger age groups.