[COLUMN] Vaccines for children ages 5-11 available – get them vaccinated and keep them safe

Jose Mendoza, 13, accepts 2nd dose of the COVID-19 vaccine during a clinic at Los Nietos Library in Whittier, on August 24, 2021. | Photo by Mayra Vasquez / Los Angeles County
By Dr. Jay Yeh, Medical Director, Pediatric Echocardiography Laboratory, UC Davis Health

Last month, COVID-19 vaccines became available for 5- to 11-year-olds, and that could not have come at a better time. With new variants like Delta and Omicron, health experts know that COVID-19 has not gone away. Protecting our children against the virus should be every parent’s top priority, especially with the winter holidays upon us.

As a pediatric cardiologist and the medical director of the pediatric echocardiography lab at UC Davis Health, I am seeing patients impacted by COVID-19 regularly. Healthy children are getting sick, and many of the children I see are suffering from heart-related complications from COVID-19. COVID-19 is the 8th leading cause of death for children ages 5-11, and with vaccines now available for this age group, I urge all parents and caregivers to get their children vaccinated.

I am proud to see that California has already administered more than 400,000 doses of the vaccine to 5-11-year-olds, but our work is not done. With the winter holidays upon us, it is more important than ever for families to protect their children. The vaccine not only protects them, but also the people around them—siblings, parents, grandparents, schoolmates and teachers—helping to keep everyone healthy and well.

I get questions from parents about vaccinating their young children, and I understand their concerns. The vaccine is safe. Children receive a lower dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine as authorized by the FDA. The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommends that all children ages 5-11 get vaccinated as soon as possible. The lower-dose Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine has been proven to be safe and effective on children in clinical trials, and getting your child vaccinated is the best defense against COVID-19 and its variants.

Below are answers to frequent questions I get asked about the vaccine. I hope these answers help parents make the decision to protect their children and get them vaccinated.

Are the vaccines safe for children?

Comprehensive clinical trials in more than 4,500 children ages 5-11 demonstrate that the COVID-19 vaccine is safe and effective in this age group, resulting in a strong antibody response in children who received the vaccine. The COVID-19 vaccine was found to be safe for children ages 5-11, with only mild side effects like fatigue, fever, and headache. The nation’s immunization experts have analyzed all the reports concerning any possible serious side effects following a COVID-19 vaccine. Serious side effects are rare — and the benefits of vaccination far outweigh any risk.

Additionally, the risk of getting extremely sick from COVID-19 and suffering long-term effects are high in unvaccinated people, which is why getting vaccinated is so critically important. The science and data – now inclusive of younger children – continue to reinforce that these free, safe vaccines will help kids fend off the worst outcomes of this highly contagious virus.

Should parents be concerned about whether the vaccine may affect their children’s health or reproductive organs?

There is no evidence that suggests any vaccines, including the COVID-19 vaccine, cause female or male infertility. There is no reason to suspect the vaccine’s ingredients can harm youth development. No concerns regarding growth and development have been identified in clinical trials in children ages 5-11, nor have any been raised in ongoing trials with children as young as six months. COVID-19 vaccines do not change or interact with your DNA in any way. The ingredients in the mRNA vaccine never enter the nucleus of a cell, which is where our DNA is kept.

If my child already tested positive for COVID and has recovered, do they still need to receive the vaccine?

Yes, doctors and scientists recommend that children and adolescents ages five and older get the vaccine, even if they have had COVID-19. We do not know how long someone is protected from getting sick again after recovering from the virus, and we do not know whether the immunity developed against one strain provides enough protection against new variants. We do know that getting vaccinated is the best way to be protected against COVID-19.

Is it safe for my child to get the COVID vaccine and the annual flu shot at the same time?

Yes, it is safe to receive both your flu shot and COVID-19 vaccine at the same time. Both the flu and COVID-19 vaccines work toward keeping us safe from disease. Slowing the spread of the flu this year will be important to protect families and loved ones, especially around the holidays.

Overall, I remind my patients that vaccinations have safely been administered to millions of adolescents. Getting vaccinated against COVID-19 is what has allowed kids ages 12-17 to return safely to school, to rejoin sports teams, drama clubs, and other activities – programs that enrich their lives and help them grow into healthy adults. Our younger children deserve the same opportunities. Above all, the most important thing we can do to stop the spread of COVID-19 is to get vaccinated and be vigilant around those unable or not yet eligible to get vaccinated.

I have vaccinated my children. Please do the same for yours. If you have more questions, I encourage you to contact your pediatrician. To get your child vaccinated, it’s easy. You can go to MyTurn.ca.gov or call the hotline, which offers information in more than 200 languages, at 833-422-4255, to find a vaccination site near you.

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The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of the Asian Journal, its management, editorial board and staff.

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Dr. Yeh is a board-certified pediatric cardiologist with advanced training in echocardiography. He specializes in diagnosis and treatment of congenital and acquired heart disease. He cares for a wide spectrum of patients ranging from newborns to adults with congenital heart disease. He has special clinical interest in pre-operative and post-operative care for congenital heart defects.

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