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The COVID Vaccine is Safe for Kids

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The COVID Vaccine is Safe for Kids

May 26, 2021

Parents may have questions about the COVID-19 vaccines and whether or not they are safe for their kids. Although not as common as adults, children can still get severely sick from the coronavirus—and transmit it to others. Epidemiologist Dr. Emily Spivak talks about the safety and effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccines and why it's important to get children vaccinated.

Dr. Spivak: The vaccine looked 100% effective. There were 16 cases of COVID in those 2600 kids, all of them were in kids that got placebo, no infections in kids that got the vaccine. So it looks really safe and really effective, maybe even more effective than an adult.

Interviewer: How we know the COVID-19 vaccine is safe for kids and why your children should get it? Dr. Emily Spivak is an Associate Professor of Medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases at University of Utah Health. So first of all, should kids get the COVID vaccine? I mean, I've heard that kids are a lot less likely to get sick from COVID-19. So is the vaccine necessary? And is that a true statement?

Should My Child Get the COVID Vaccine?

Dr. Spivak: That is a true statement. But I'd like to point out that they're not immune or completely protected from getting sick, right? There have been over 400 kids hospitalized in Utah since the pandemic hit from COVID-19, and I think around two or three have died. Nationally, over 300 children have died from COVID-19, and that's 50% higher than like our worst influenza year, deaths-wise in kids nationally. And then I'd also point out, we don't talk about whether you want to call it long COVID, long haulers, any sort of long-term side effects from other viruses, like influenza or other respiratory viruses. We don't see that like we do with COVID-19. And so, I think the long-term side effects that happens in children as well. And that should be a reason to get your kids vaccinated as well just protecting them from being hospitalized.

Interviewer: We hear that they don't transmit it as readily as adults, is that a true statement?

Does COVID Affects Kids Less Than Adults?

Dr. Spivak: I don't know that that is totally true. And a lot of that original data and understanding came in the setting of, you know, last spring, when we had shut schools down, kids were sheltered at home. And then, when we brought them back to school, in many places, it was with masks. And so, it's a little bit confounded understanding how well kids can transmit it.

I will say clearly, we are seeing an uptick in cases in younger populations so less than 18, people who are less likely to be vaccinated, relative to nationally cases going down overall and going down and over. . .going down in older populations that are vaccinated. So clearly, kids are susceptible. And I think if you ask most kids, they would tell you, "I would like to get vaccinated because then I can start seeing my friends. I can start doing sports. We can start riding in cars or doing things together without a mask. And I want to protect my friends, my grandparents, and the people around me." So, there's a lot of personal reasons for them to do it to not get sick. But also just to get back to the things that are fun for them and that they want to do.

Is the Vaccine Safe?

Interviewer: So we've got the why. There's a couple good why reasons. What about the safety aspect? So I mean, there's some skepticism from some individuals if it's safe for adults. So is it safe for kids? Is it more risky for kids? What do we know about that?

Dr. Spivak: It looks safe. And I will say just talking about this vaccine in general, we have. . .so almost over 275 million doses have been given of COVID vaccines in the United States. Again, all. . .most of that is to adults. But I would just point out, we have, you know, the most intensive safety monitoring in U.S. history for this vaccine compared to any other vaccine that we have given. So there's been new safety monitoring systems in additions to the ones that existed that have been deployed, essentially, to monitor COVID-19 vaccine safety.

These vaccines look incredibly safe. And we have much longer-term data right with adults since we've been doing this since about December in adults. But the data that exists looks also like these are quite safe in children. Same side effects, right, 80% are going to have some arm soreness after the injection and about 20% to 30% will have this flu-like symptoms fever, myalgias, headaches, you know, muscle pain after the second dose. And that is. . .that's just your body showing you that the vaccine is working and your immune system is responding. But there do not seem to be any serious side effects.

Interviewer: And you have children yourself. When it comes to the question of getting your children vaccinated when it's time, because right now 12. . .as of the recording of this, children 12 and older can get vaccinated. It is not been approved for any younger. What are you going to do with your decision-making process?

Dr. Spivak: I'll be honest with you, I have three girls ages nine, almost seven, and three, but I will get my kids the vaccine as soon as it's available for them. I don't have any concerns.

Interviewer: So there have been some side effects with adults and some negative outcomes, the blood clotting, for example, is one. As a parent, does that worry you that that could happen to your child? I mean, that would be scary, right?

Dr. Spivak: It would be scary, but I'm not worried. So the blood clotting there's no signal to blood. . .to my knowledge for blood clotting with the mRNA vaccine, so with Pfizer or Moderna. And currently what we're talking about with adolescents is the Pfizer vaccine is approved. We expect the Moderna trial to be finished in 12 to 15, 16-year-olds and that one to be approved in the very near future. The blood clots are with the adenovirus vector vaccines specifically in the U.S., the Johnson and Johnson vaccine that has been licensed. So that vaccine is not really in the pool and available for adolescents. So, you know, again, the overall risk really is lower than getting COVID, depending on how much is in the community and also of these long-term side effects from COVID. So we're still talking minuscule risk.

Key Takeaways

Interviewer: Give me your two-sentence summary about for a parent that's hesitant to get the vaccine for their children, you know, maybe they would get it for themselves, but not their kids. What can we say to make parents feel better about the decision to get their children vaccinated?

Dr. Spivak: These concerns exists in parents who ran to get the vaccine for themselves, but they're still concerned about the safety, I think is the main thing for their kids balancing that with, we hear kids don't really get that sick. So if I'm unsure about safety, does my kid really need to get it?

Interviewer: Yeah, that risk-benefit kind of question that you as a physician face all the time.

Dr. Spivak: Yeah. There is a lot of data in adults showing that these vaccines are highly effective and safe. Again, probably more data than any other vaccine in U.S. history. The risks of getting COVID and severe consequences maybe not death, but this multi-system inflammatory syndrome MIS-C or sort of long haulers or long COVID is real in kids. And then, also just even the more proximal goal of getting your kids comfortably back socializing, playing, camp, sports with their friends. And I think if you asked your kids as sort of what they want to do, they would probably. . .many of them say, "I'd like to do this for myself, but do it for my friends and do it for my teachers and other people as well."

Interviewer: And if somebody wants more information beyond what we talked about, what's a good reliable source for them to go to?

Dr. Spivak: I'd say The state website also If you Google CDC COVID vaccine, there's a lot of frequently asked questions, fact sheets in there, that's a good resource as well.