Science

Why Experts Say It’s Vital That Parents Get Their Kids Vaccinated For Covid

Children and teenagers might soon be the next focus of the U.S. Covid-19 pandemic. By the last week of April, cases among children and teens accounted for more than 22% of new cases in the U.S, and there was a 4% increase in the total number of cases in kids. Almost 4 million kids have been diagnosed with Covid-19 since the beginning of the pandemic.

Luckily, vaccines for kids are arriving soon. On May 4th, Pfizer said the vaccine it co-developed with BioNTech will likely get an FDA authorization for use in kids aged 12-15. The companies hope to get the vaccines authorized for kids aged 2-11 by September. Moderna is just behind, having started its phase 2 / 3 clinical trial in children less than 12 years old in March. 

While polls show that adults are increasingly willing to get vaccinated, if they haven’t already, some parents have expressed doubts about vaccinating their kids. These concerns range from a lack of data to the quick pace of production. That said, a recent poll showed that 30% of parents are enthusiastic about vaccinations. As vaccines become available for those under 18, pediatricians and researchers argue that it is essential to immunize kids against Covid-19, both for their own protection as well as the protection of everyone else. 

Usually, Covid-19 symptoms aren’t as severe for kids when compared to adults, but that doesn’t mean that kids feel no effect from the virus. The American Academy of Pediatrics reports that between 0.1% and 2% of Covid-19 cases affecting those under age 18 require hospitalization.. Additionally, more than 250 children in the U.S. have died from the disease in the past year. 

Children who have been infected with Covid-19 can see other complications. A multisystem inflammatory syndrome, called MIS-C, can cause fever, rash, and damage to the heart and other organs in children who had even asymptomatic cases of Covid-19. And just like adults, children can also get symptoms of “long-haul” Covid-19, which can include severe fatigue, headaches, and abdominal pain. Paul Offit, a pediatrician at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, says that he’s seen a number of cases of both severe Covid-19 and MIS-C in children. “I’m sure all of those parents would have preferred the vaccine to the disease,” he says.  


“Even if kids don’t get that sick, they are vectors for transmission,” says David Wendler, a bioethicist at the NIH.


The increase in Covid-19 cases in kids has been driven by a variety of factors. One of the most notable is the spread of the more transmissible B.1.1.7 variant of coronavirus, which is now responsible for about 60% of new Covid-19 cases in the U.S. Kids don’t catch this variant of the virus more easily than adults do, but since it’s more contagious, more kids in total are getting sick. Another factor: kids may soon be the biggest population where the virus can survive and replicate. As more and more adults get vaccinated against Covid-19, it could drive the burden of disease into younger age groups.

“Reaching a level of immunity in the community is even more important as these more transmissible variants are circulating,” says Ted Chaconas, the chief medical officer of UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital. 

And vaccinating kids won’t just help prevent them from getting the disease; it will also make the whole community safer. The more opportunity that the Covid-19 virus has to replicate in human bodies, the higher the likelihood that new mutations will emerge. Children make up almost 25% of the U.S. population, a huge group “that possibly has no preexisting immunity to this virus, that could become infected and produce new variants,” says Jennifer Nayak, a pediatric infectious disease doctor at the University of Rochester Medical Center.

In addition, while the current Covid-19 vaccines are highly effective, they aren’t foolproof. Children who are unvaccinated and get Covid-19 might still pass it along to older adults in their lives, like grandparents, especially if those adults are immunocompromised. “Even if kids don’t get that sick, they are vectors for transmission,” says David Wendler, a bioethicist at the NIH. Vaccinating kids is “justified on a public health basis,” he says.  

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As with the adult population, producing a Covid-19 vaccine is only half the battle; the other half is getting people to take it. A new poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation found that only three in 10 parents of children ages 12-15 will get their child vaccinated as soon as it is available. A quarter of parents will wait a little while to see how the data continues to look, and another quarter say that they will not vaccinate their kids at all. 

Offit says that he understands the hesitation that some parents may be experiencing. These vaccines are “a novel strategy, developed very quickly,” he says. In addition, “a scarier disease often leads people to think of a scarier vaccine.” But there has now been a large amount of data showing how well the vaccines work in children. Pfizer says that it’s vaccine is 100% effective at preventing Covid-19 in 12-15 year olds, and Moderna said that its vaccine is 96% effective in the same age group. There have not been any serious adverse events reported in either clinical trials. 

Based on the sum of the data, Offit says, “I think at this point skepticism should melt away.”

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