On Tuesday evening, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention approved coronavirus vaccinations for children between the ages of 5 and 11. “We know millions of parents are eager to get their children vaccinated,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said in a statement, noting that 28 million kids are now eligible for vaccination.
Although the federal government has already begun the process of delivering doses to states, the Biden administration has said the effort will begin in earnest next week.
Childhood vaccinations may signal a new phase in the pandemic, but many parents have expressed hesitation about getting their children inoculated. Only 27 percent of those surveyed said they were eager to do so, according to a recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll.
Below, some common concerns are addressed by Dr. Lucy McBride, a Washington, D.C., internist who writes on the coronavirus pandemic, and other experts.
I heard that children don’t get COVID-19. Is that true?
It is not.
While it is true that older people are more susceptible to infection by the coronavirus, children are also able to contract it.
“While kids are generally less at risk for severe outcomes from COVID-19, there have been kids who have gotten very sick,” McBride told Yahoo News. “There have, tragically, been kids who have died from COVID — and getting the vaccine is a lot safer than getting COVID-19.”
According to CDC statistics, 65,040 children nationwide have been hospitalized for COVID-19 and 793 have died. About 5,000 children have also experienced a host of symptoms, such as abdominal pain, that are collectively called multisystem inflammatory syndrome, or MIS-C.
“We should not underestimate the incidence in children,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top medical adviser to President Biden, said at Wednesday’s press briefing with the White House pandemic response team.
What about side effects of the vaccine?
“The most common side effect was a sore arm,” Walensky said during Wednesday’s press briefing. In an interview with NPR’s Morning Edition, she said that clinical trials revealed “not a single case of a severe side effect,” according to data submitted by Pfizer.
“Kids who are ages 5 to 11 experience the same side effects that adults and older children do,” McBride says.
One persistent concern has been myocarditis, a heart condition that can affect younger men. According to Pfizer, there were no instances of myocarditis in its clinical trial for the youngest vaccination cohort.
“The risk of COVID-19 on the heart is greater than the potential risk for Myocarditis in this population” McBride says. And while myocarditis is a serious concern, the median age for post-vaccination myocarditis was 24, according to findings from last summer, suggesting that the youngest children are at less risk.
In addition, most cases of myocarditis that did follow vaccination turned out to be mild.
Will the vaccine protect against long COVID?
“Long COVID is thought to be less common in children than in adults. But we have to also realize that you can’t get long COVID if you don’t get COVID to begin with,” says McBride. “So again, another argument in favor of getting vaccinated is to reduce the chance of getting COVID and long COVID as a consequence.”
Is the vaccine being administered to children the same as the one that has been available for adults?
Yes, just in smaller doses, partly to head off adverse effects like myocarditis. Whereas an adult dose of the Pfizer vaccine is 30 micrograms, the childhood dose is 10 micrograms. Just like adults, however, children are expected to get two shots, and to space those shots at least three weeks apart.
Children’s immune systems are not fully developed, and immunologists were trying to balance the protection offered by vaccines with any risks the vaccines may pose.
“If you can get the same level of protection at a lower dose, that just makes sense,” Dr. Grace Lee, a Stanford expert on pediatric infectious diseases who sits on a key federal vaccine advisory panel, told the Atlantic.
What if my child has already had COVID-19?
“We absolutely recommend that children who have previously had COVID also get vaccines. That is definitely our recommendation,” Walensky said on Wednesday. “It bolsters their protection, and it is safe to do.”
A recent CDC study showed natural immunity to be more than five times less effective in offering protection against COVID-19 than vaccination.
Walensky said that children who have already had the coronavirus should still get both doses of the vaccine, instead of a single dose.
What does all this mean for masking in schools?
Nothing, so far. Federal officials are acutely aware that people are tired of wearing masks. Yet they may have to do so for several more months, if only because millions remain unvaccinated and winter is on its way. The coronavirus spreads much more efficiently indoors than out, and masks remain an efficient, if uncomfortable, way to mitigate that spread.
Late last month, Walensky said that the CDC would “continue to recommend masks in all schools, for all people in those schools.”
That said, states and local districts could contravene that guidance, as some Republican elected officials already have. Even in left-leaning circles, the conversation about taking off masks in school has begun. “The vaccine should change things for us, and we don’t want kids to wear masks in school indefinitely,” a leading aerosol scientist, Linsey Marr, was reported as saying in the New York Times last week.
Where can I sign up? And when?
That largely depends on where you live. The federal government and Pfizer have begun shipping vaccines to pediatricians’ offices, community health centers, pharmacies and schools. However, the White House pandemic response team coordinator, Jeff Zients, has cautioned that the childhood vaccination effort was not expected to be fully in operation until Nov. 8.
Some parents have reported success in finding appointments on websites for pharmacies such as CVS, which have been vaccinating adults and adolescents for months.
The federal government provides a search tool for vaccination sites.
Explore how the Delta variant correlates with the national political landscape in this 3D experience from the Yahoo Immersive Team.
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