Kids can now get the Pfizer vaccine, but should they?

why should kids get the covid vaccine
Photo via UNICEF Ukraine/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration opened the door for children aged 12 to 15 to receive the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine on May 10. But does that necessarily mean kids should get the COVID vaccine, even if they are eligible?

As NPR reported, “The authorization expands the pool of eligible vaccine recipients to about 87% of the total U.S. population, covering an additional 17 million children, and comes at a time when people under age 18 account for one of every five newly reported coronavirus infections.”

But just because vaccine availability is open to that larger group, it doesn’t mean they’ll all be vaccinated. As USA Today noted, 58% of parents said in a March survey that they would get their child the vaccine, but that’s about a 13% drop from those caregivers who said they would get the vaccine themselves.

The paper went on to note that there’s more recent vaccine hesitancy manifesting, as “a more recent survey published in the April edition of the Kaiser Family Foundation’s Vaccine Monitor found 32% of parents said they’ll wait to see how the vaccine works before getting their child vaccinated, and 19% said they definitely wouldn’t get their child vaccinated.”

Vaccinations for adolescents could come online as soon as mid-May, with the New York Times sharing President Biden’s statement that around 20,000 pharmacies are gearing up for inoculations, with some states preparing immunization campaigns targeted to the newly-eligible age group.

In the first week it was available for 12- to 15-year-olds, about 600,000 children in that age range received the vaccine.

Pfizer’s clinical trials showed strong efficacy for the age group in question, with zero cases of COVID-19 in the 1,100 children who received the Pfizer vaccine, compared to 16 cases out of 1,100 children in the placebo group. Furthermore, the vaccinated adolescents had high levels of antibodies in their blood, indicating significant protection from COVID-19.

While some of the participants registered side effects—including pain at the injection site, fatigue, and headaches—those were in line with side effects experienced by other age groups who have been vaccinated.

Dr. Megan Freeman, a researcher in infectious disease at UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, remarked, “We know that kids are less likely to die from COVID than, say, their 80-year-old grandparents. But that doesn’t mean that there’s zero risk.”

Freeman recommended vaccines for adolescents, in part because of the complications that COVID-19 can bring. “We know that teenagers can get things like long COVID, and that’s something that you would want to avoid,” she observed. “Student-athletes can have long-lasting effects on their heart and have to have monitoring by a cardiologist. So that would be something that we would want to avoid.”

NPR noted that “tens of thousands of kids have been hospitalized with COVID-19—including more than 3,000 who have developed a rare but dangerous inflammatory syndrome nicknamed MIS-C.” It went on to note COVID-19 has been one of the leading causes of death among children during the pandemic.

Dr. Yvonne Maldonado, chair of the Committee on Infectious Diseases for the American Academy of Pediatrics and a professor of pediatric infectious diseases at Stanford, is encouraging adolescents to get vaccinated, noting that just having the vaccine available is “really a remarkable achievement.”

So, should kids get the COVID vaccine? Maldonado says yes.

“This will protect our children from the disease,” she told NPR, “and if we want to get close to protection for the whole population, children are going to need to be a part of that.”

Read more on the coronavirus vaccines:

Sources: NPR, USA Today, New York Times

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