It’s now been three weeks since the FDA granted EUA (Emergency Use Authorization) to Pfizer/BioNTech to begin vaccinating children ages 12 to 15 years. Prior EUA was limited to adolescents age 16 or older. Moderna is expected to receive EUA for their vaccine in this same age group very soon.
The latest information from Pfizer/BioNTech says their vaccines is 93% effective in clinical trials after one dose and 100% effective after two doses. There have been no cases of Covid-19 in these children who have been fully vaccinated.
Common side effects are pain at the injection site, some swelling, body aches, low fever, and enlarged lymph nodes according to Dr. Salma Elfaki, Orlando pediatrician who ran the trials for Moderna’s 12 to 17 trials in Central Florida. “The worst case lasted maybe a week.”
Kate Santich, writing in The Orlando Sentinel, says doctors and health officials in Central Florida are worried that many eligible 12- to 17-year-olds will decline the vaccine shots. This may result in Covid-19 infections in these children, and worse, in their household grownups.
Some recent statistics are revealing. Although the risk of Covid-19 causing serious illness and death in children is extremely low, it is not zero. Dr. Elfaki noted that more than 1,300 Florida youth from babies to age 14 have been hospitalized with the virus, and seven have died. In the 15-to 24-year-old category, 2,400 Floridians have been hospitalized and 53 have died. These are not insignificant numbers.
There is also a severe pediatric reaction to the virus that has been seen in a few pediatric cases involving multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children, or MIS-C – in which the infection triggers a battle with the host that can damage major organs and lead to death. As of May 3, Florida had reported more than 150 cases like this.
Nevertheless, skepticism about the vaccine is running higher than in adults. “The split is about 60/40 – with 60% hesitant,” Elfaki said of parents in her private practice. “I understand their hesitancy. Obviously, everybody feels it’s fairly new, and they want to wait a little bit and see if anything pans out. But I try to educate them on the numbers, which have shown the vaccines to be extremely safe.”
This degree of skepticism is not limited to Florida. A nationwide survey in May of nearly 22,000 parents in all 50 states found about 27% of mothers and 11% of fathers say they are extremely unlikely to vaccinate their children against Covid-19. I would blame this skepticism on the misinformation about vaccines and childhood autism that began years ago with a false claim in the British medical journal Lancet that the measles vaccine caused autism. Lancet later retracted this report when it found the research behind it was bogus. Yet celebrities promoted this falsehood and many parents still believe their lies.
Dr. Kenneth Alexander, chief of infectious disease at Nemours Children’s Hospital in Orlando, blames the nation’s current cultural climate. “We Americans are sort of hold-outs. We haven’t had serious at-school vaccination, really, since the 1950s,” he said. “Whereas for the rest of the world, this is actually how children routinely get vaccinated. And parents there think this is normal. We’re a global anomaly.”
There have been reports of a mild inflammation of the heart seen in some children. But the CDC says the condition is extremely rare, typically mild, and not found at a greater rate among vaccinated youth than unvaccinated ones. These anecdotal reports only serve to increase parental anxiety, even when the science fails to demonstrate a connection.
No parent should be worried about the cost of getting their child vaccinated. The Vaccines for Children Program was established by the federal government in 1994. Children from birth through age 18 years are eligible to receive free vaccines if they:
- Are enrolled in Medicaid
- Have no health insurance
- Are American Indians or native Alaskans
- Are covered by a health insurance plan that does not include vaccines
I would encourage anyone, adult or child, to get vaccinated unless they have a medical condition that makes them at high risk if they receive the vaccine. We are blessed to have safe, effective, widely available vaccines now for this dreaded disease. Take advantage of these medical breakthroughs to allow you and your family to get back to life.