Kids & COVID-19 vaccines: The opportunity and the need is now
Published in Monterey Bay Parent magazine on January 2, 2022
Throughout the 2020 holiday season, the antidote to avoid COVID-19 infection was to stay home, shelter in place, and avoid physical contact with anyone outside the family “bubble.” This year, while the advisory is still valid, the principal antidote is to get vaccinated against infection.
While vaccination for adults has been available since the beginning of 2021, vaccination was authorized for youth ages 12 to 17 in May, and for children ages 5 to 11 in October. And Dr. Martha Blum, medical director of infection prevention for Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula, recommends it.
“That children can be vaccinated is great,” says Dr. Blum, “because right now, during the holiday season, family and friends are beginning to gather. For people who are on the fence about getting their kids vaccinated, I recommend talking to their pediatrician.” Parental concerns, says Dr. Blum, typically arise when something is new and lacks historical data.
While we don’t have the benefit of time, we have the data from adults who have been vaccinated all over the world since January. And children are being vaccinated with the same ingredients as the FDA-approved Pfizer vaccine for people 12 and older, just a smaller dose.
–Dr. Martha Blum, medical director of infection prevention for Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula
We can make some really good assumptions about what’s likely to happen among children in the long term, she says, based on what we’re seeing in groups who have been vaccinated for a year and a half, starting with clinical trials.
“Do we become skeptical of new computer technology as it comes out faster and faster? Why would it be any different,” says Dr. Blum, “with biomedical science? We’re learning and developing and taking giant leaps forward. And we need it to happen quickly to save lives.”
Moreover, the potential side effects of the vaccine — a sore arm, achy body, and perhaps reduced energy the next day — seem to have a lower incidence, she says, in the younger age groups. And, if they do occur, they tend to be less severe and resolve more quickly in kids.
Dr. Blum does caution parents, when they register their children ages 5 to 11 for a vaccination, to get the correct product, intended for young children. Local pharmacies and the pediatric medical practices in Salinas and on the Monterey Peninsula have the pediatric vaccine product in their offices, she says, and clinics have been very clear about the products they have.
The California Department of Education publishes a list of vaccines and their dosage required for children to attend public school: Diphtheria, Tetanus, and Pertussis; Polio; Hepatitis B; Measles, Mumps, and Rubella; and Varicella (Chickenpox).
“California is very limited in the types of exceptions allowed to exempt students from vaccination,” says Dr. Blum. “Governor Newsom has already said, when the COVID-19 vaccine becomes fully FDA approved — right now it has emergency authorization — it will be a requirement for children to attend public school.”
Since it takes five weeks after the first dose for youth ages 5 to 17 to be fully vaccinated, Dr. Blum suggests parents schedule appointments to have their children vaccinated as soon as possible.
“The Pfizer vaccination process requires two doses — kids do not like the word shot — three weeks apart,” she says, “and are considered fully vaccinated, or fully protected, two weeks after the second dose.”
The emergence of the Omicron variant of the COVID-19 virus has caused people to question whether they should wait to become vaccinated, in case a new version of the vaccine is produced.
“Our current vaccines still protect people against severe disease symptoms, hospitalization, and death,” she says, “and this seems to include the Omicron variant. So everyone should get vaccinated (or get the booster) now; there’s more harm in waiting than in getting vaccinated with what we have available.”
At this time, 15 percent of Monterey County children ages 5 to 11 are vaccinated with their first dose, which represents 6,500 kids. Among youth ages 12 to 17, 80 percent of the population has received at least one dose of the Pfizer vaccine.
“This is actually a reinforcing system,” says Dr. Blum, “enabling people to build more confidence in the vaccine as they see large numbers of youth doing fine after vaccination. And that’s our goal.”