A vaccination record card and face mask on a table.

July 14, 2021

Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine already scores an A+ for people 16 and older. But now that it’s available for 12-to-15 year-olds, you may wonder if the vaccine’s safety makes the grade for your children.

Dr. Krystal Batchelor, DO, pediatrician at Children’s Memorial Hermann Pediatrics Katy examines the facts:

ONE. Kids can get COVID-19—and it can be harmful.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has done the math, which adds up to trouble.

In the past year, more than 3.94 million children have been diagnosed with COVID-19. They account for 3.2 percent of hospitalizations and 351 deaths. Of those, 279 were ages 5-17.

Children are 14.1 percent of new cases, with 39,943 children becoming ill in the week ending May 20.

But large-scale trials show both the Pfizer and (soon to be approved for children) Moderna vaccines are more than 95 percent effective for ages 12-17, equal to adults, Dr. Batchelor says. And just as with adults, vaccines reach their fullest effect two weeks after the second dose.

VERDICT: A protected child means a more protected family.

TWO. COVID-19 symptoms for youths far exceed vaccines' side effects.

Most children have only mild symptoms, but there’s no guarantee.

“We cannot predict who will do just fine with Covid and who will have severe complications that land them in the hospital,” Dr. Batchelor says.

One risk is Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome (MIS-C), when the body goes into overdrive to fight COVID-19. The heart, lungs, kidneys, brain, stomach and blood vessels may become severely inflamed. Most kids recover, but in rare cases their organs are permanently damaged.

In contrast, the most common reaction to the vaccine is soreness and redness at the shot site, and sometimes slight fever or fatigue. All will be gone in a day or two.

“The side effects of getting vaccinated are like the symptoms of a cold,” she says.

As for fears your child may faint while getting the shot, that’s no more likely than for flu shots or childhood vaccinations. “Some children faint because an injection hurts or they’re anxious,” she says.

The remedy: Have your child lay down while being inoculated.

VERDICT: Even if your children already has been sick with COVID-19, the child still should get vaccinated. While reinfection rates are very low, she says, “Just because a child had minimal symptoms the first time doesn’t guarantee the same the second time. “Why risk your child’s heart or other organs being affected or the child otherwise being harmed when there’s a vaccine that protects from the worst outcomes?”

THREE. Your child cannot get the coronavirus from the vaccine.

The arrival of COVID-19 vaccines may seem sudden, but the science behind them has been around for years. “It’s not brand new,” Dr. Batchelor says.

Neither Pfizer nor Moderna vaccines contain the virus. Instead they use molecular couriers–mRNA, or messenger ribonucleic acid–to deliver COVID-19’s genetic codes for a protein directly to cells. The body then pumps out antibodies against this protein. This enables the body to detect and destroy the virus.

VERDICT: Your child cannot and will not catch COVID-19 from the shots themselves.

FOUR. Fast does not mean unsafe. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration did its homework—and so have Pfizer and Moderna.

COVID-19 Vaccines for kids 12 and over were rigorously tested for safety.

Pfizer has done all its trials, including large-scale ones. So has Moderna, whose vaccine the FDA is expected to approve for 12-to-17-year-olds in the near future.

VERDICT: Whether for flu, coronavirus or childhood diseases, vaccinations have proven to be safe time and time again, Dr. Batchelor says. Drug makers have taken necessary steps to ensure safety, and “that should give parents peace of mind.”

FIVE. Vaccines will not harm your child’s future fertility.

She says, “There’s no evidence any COVID vaccine causes fertility problems.”

VERDICT: Inoculations will not harm your child’s ability to have children.

SIX. Home schooling doesn’t work for every child.

Many students focus better during in-person classes and need—and crave—interaction with their peers. Isolation and inactivity have taken a toll on children’s mental and physical health, as well as their academics, Dr. Batchelor says. “I’ve seen more mental illness in children in the past year as a direct result of staying at home and being unable to socialize. And their obesity rate has skyrocketed because they are indoors and not outdoors where they can play sports.”

Fully vaccinated back-to-schoolers may not have to socially distance or wear masks when they return to in-person classes. Already, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has relaxed rules for fully vaccinated summer campers.

VERDICT: “Children need to return to their classrooms and activities—and the vaccine is how we get them there,” Dr. Batchelor says.

EIGHT. Soon your entire family may be able to get vaccinated.

Once you, your kids and your parents are fully vaccinated, you can eat in restaurants, visit grandparents, attend small weddings or hit the road for a getaway without fear.

VERDICT: “The vaccine is our ticket to returning to pre-pandemic life,” Dr. Batchelor says. “It’s what kids need. It’s what we all need.”

Stay up to date on the CDC’s guidance on COVID-19 vaccines for children and teens: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/recommendations/adolescents.html.

The information in this article was accurate as of July 14, 2021.

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