Since one COVID-19 vaccine has received emergency use authorization for individuals ages 12 and up, I have received many questions from parents who want to do the best thing for their child's health and wellness — now and in the future. In some cases, parents have just recently become comfortable with the idea of getting vaccinated themselves and are now considering what's best for their kids. This can certainly be overwhelming, to say the least.
First, as a pediatrician, I highly recommend the COVID-19 vaccine for those who meet the specific age requirements. Although fewer children have been infected with COVID-19 compared to adults, children can still be infected with the virus; get sick from COVID-19; and spread the illness to others. Studies have shown that the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is safe for those 12 years of age and over, and I trust the ever-growing body of clinical research that supports this.
White coat aside, I'm a parent FIRST. In fact, I'm pleased to share that, although my own children do not yet meet the age requirements, my nieces and nephews have been vaccinated against COVID-19. When my children are old enough, they will also be vaccinated. Knowing my nieces and nephews are protected gives me great peace of mind while we continue to fight this pandemic and especially as the COVID-19 Delta variant surges across the country.
There is a lot of misinformation circulating about the risks and benefits of vaccinating adolescents. Below, I address the most common questions I hear in both my personal and professional circles. My goal is to help debunk the myths you may be losing sleep over as you decide what is right for your child.
Q: Is the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine safe and effective for young recipients (ages 12 and older)?
A: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), clinical trials have shown that the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is highly effective at preventing COVID-19 infection in adolescents 12 years and older. Vaccinations may help keep adolescents from spreading COVID-19 to others and can also help keep your child from getting seriously sick even if they do get COVID-19. From a safety perspective, the vaccine has undergone and will continue to undergo the most intensive safety monitoring in U.S. history.
Q: Is there a COVID-19 vaccine available for children younger than 12 years old?
A: Currently, 12 years old is the youngest age threshold for receiving the COVID-19 vaccine based on current studies. This age requirement could eventually be adjusted to include younger children as research and clinical trials continue.
Q: I've read that fertility could be impacted. Is that true?
A: There has been no demonstrated link between vaccines and infertility in the studies conducted to date. The CDC reports there is no evidence that the COVID-19 vaccines cause fertility problems, and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists states that the vaccine studies do not indicate any safety concerns for those who are pregnant or want to become pregnant.
Q: Should I be concerned about my child experiencing heart inflammation?
A: There have been reports of myocarditis and pericarditis in adolescents and young adults after COVID-19 vaccination. However, the benefits of COVID-19 vaccination outweigh the known and potential risks. The CDC continues to recommend COVID-19 vaccination for individuals ages 12 and older. Talk with your child's pediatrician if he has an existing heart condition that should be considered prior to vaccination.
Q: What other vaccine options are available for adolescents?
A: To date, the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is the only vaccine that has been authorized for use in individuals ages 12 and older.
Q: Can I wait for another vaccine that is authorized for young recipients?
A: The best rule of thumb is to get the first vaccine available to provide protection against COVID-19 as soon as possible. It is not known when or if another vaccine may be authorized for the 12 – 15 age group.
The best defense we have against COVID-19 is to get as many people vaccinated as possible. At this point, most of the patients we are seeing who are hospitalized with COVID-19 are unvaccinated, and we don't want you or your child to be next. As we continue fighting the pandemic, I would also like to encourage our community to wear a mask, socially distance from others and practice proper hand hygiene to help slow the spread of illness.