#childsafety | Doctor’s View: No, don’t ‘wait and see’ on vaccinating young children

Yet a recent Kaiser Family Foundation study indicates that one-third of parents plan to take a wait-and-see approach for their children.

As a mom of two elementary school-aged boys, I know every parent’s priority is keeping their children healthy and safe. And, as a physician, I understand why some parents have concerns about a new vaccine. I’ve spent time carefully reviewing the data and talking with my children and their father about the vaccine. And I want to share the facts that helped us make our decision to vaccinate our boys as soon as possible.

It has been more than 10 months since the first COVID-19 vaccines were distributed. Most individuals, including adolescents age 12 to 15, reported mild, if any, side effects. Studies have shown that even those who experienced aches and pains fully recovered within a day or two. The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine that millions have received is the same vaccine being approved for children 5 to 11 years old. The difference is that children will receive a lower dose. The dosing was designed to give full benefits while reducing risks for rare side effects. In fact, there were no cases of pericarditis or myocarditis for this age group in the clinical trial.

We know COVID-19 can result in serious illness, and ultimately many adults who did not get vaccinated became gravely ill and requested the vaccine too late. While most of the COVID-19 cases in children have been mild, an increasing number of children have been hospitalized during the Delta variant surge. In the past six weeks, children accounted for more than 1.1 million cases of COVID-19. Children can develop serious complications, including a dangerous condition referred to as Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children, or MIS-C. Some also suffer long-haul symptoms. Therefore, it’s important to vaccinate children as soon as the vaccine is available.

Data submitted to the Food and Drug Administration detailing the safety and efficacy of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine in children ages 5 to 11 indicate that the vaccine was nearly 91% effective at preventing symptomatic disease in this age group. That’s excellent news, but we should keep in mind that it takes weeks for a full immune response to build in the body after the second dose. Time is of the essence for anyone planning winter travel and family gatherings. We’re all eager to get back to normal, with fewer masking and social-distancing protocols.

Getting children vaccinated as soon as possible will make schools and indoor activities safer for everyone, particularly amid continued COVID-19 mutation. We have all seen how devastating the Delta variant has been. With new variants emerging, we continue to face the risk of another surge from more virulent forms of COVID-19. It is possible that future strains of the virus will require a modified vaccine. You do not want your child to miss a vaccine cycle and risk lacking the necessary immune response and face a stronger version of the virus without protection.

Vaccination also protects others. My children are ready and excited to be vaccinated. For over a year, we have been talking about why vaccines are important to protect ourselves and to help protect vulnerable individuals like grandparents.

Like many of you, we missed family gatherings last year. We now have a powerful tool to protect our children and make cherished traditions and precious time together safer.

When given the opportunity, I plan to vaccinate my children as soon as possible, and I hope you will, too.

Mona Gahunia is a board-certified internal medicine and infectious diseases physician with the Mid-Atlantic Permanente Medical Group and sees patients at the Kaiser Permanente South Baltimore Medical Center.


On Tuesday, following unanimous approval from its Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officially authorized the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for 5- to 11-year-olds. Almost immediately, preparations started being made to vaccinate eligible children as quickly as possible.

It was “another important step in ending a pandemic that has lasted nearly two years,” Essentia Health in Duluth said in a statement. “The vaccine has been proven safe and effective for children. It is a lower dose (10 micrograms) than that used for individuals ages 12 and older (30 micrograms).”

On Wednesday, recognizing “that vaccinating youngsters presents challenges,” Essentia child life specialists offered tips:

  • Be honest and use developmentally appropriate language when explaining shots to your child. Say “poke” instead of “shot” or “vaccine.” Say “getting medicine in your leg through a poke” rather than through a “shot” or “vaccine.” Also, say “the medicine may feel warm” instead of “it will burn.”

  • Play! For younger children, playing with medical or doctor toys helps them process experiences. It also helps desensitize and familiarize them with different tools they may see during a clinic appointment.

  • Talk about getting vaccines and come up with a plan at home to help prepare.

  • Validate your child’s feelings and emotions regarding getting vaccinated or their previous experiences. Some kids are nervous and/or scared, and that’s OK.

  • Give appropriate choices to allow children some control in the situation. For example, ask if they would like to watch or play a game on Mom’s phone, if they want to blow bubbles, or whether they would like to sit on Dad’s lap or sit by themselves.

  • If your child is anxious, practice breathing exercises at home or pick a favorite distraction or comfort item. Distraction tools include an iPad, smartphone, music, favorite toys, or light-up spinner. Comfort items include a favorite blanket or stuffed animal.

  • See if there is an option to have a child life specialist present for the vaccination.

  • See if “Buzzy” is available for pain management. Buzzy resembles a bee and is used to numb an area of skin with cold temps and vibration. This confuses the nerves so the needle is hardly felt.

“We always encourage parents to be honest and patient with your child when it comes to getting vaccines and talk about going to the doctor more often,” Michelle Finneman, a child life specialist at Essentia, said in a statement from the health care provider. “Children are smart; they feed off their caregiver’s energy. So if we can begin early on to talk positively, using honest language with our children about going to the doctor and discussing the importance of vaccines with them, as well as meeting their individual needs, it will make for a more positive experience now and for future clinic appointments or hospital stays.”

How important is it to get children vaccinated?

“Our children have had nearly two school years disrupted by COVID-19, not to mention some children being seriously ill — and even dying — from the virus,” Dr. Jonathan KenKnight, a pediatrician at Essentia, said in the statement. “With safe and effective vaccines now available for this age group, we are another step closer to ending the pandemic. We at Essentia Health encourage vaccinating your children to keep them healthy and safe so that they can continue in school and other activities.”

— News Tribune Opinion page

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