The COVID vaccine is now approved for ages 12 ys and up. We hope that ages 2-11 will be approved in fall.
The medical community used to think children and youth were very low risk for issues from coronavirus. With time, we have learned this is less true than initially thought. Yes, in general, kids and teens who get the virus are more likely to do well than adults, and chronic or grave health issues are relatively rare. But there has been a higher percentage of younger people with long-term significant symptoms and health problems from the virus than we predicted, and there have been more deaths than we expected in this age range. In general, the younger the individual, the less likely they will be to have adverse outcomes (with the exception of children <1-year-old, who are considered high risk). However, we have learned that those who get gravely ill or have chronic medical issues from the virus can be completely unpredictable. Some had asymptomatic infections to start, many were never hospitalized, and the problems were detected later. Pediatric patients can be “long haulers” like we have learned about in the adult populations, and many states are now starting to set up “long hauler” clinics for pediatric patients as well.
We are still learning about the longer term issues pediatric patients are experiencing after having COVID. Several currently known issues include:
- Chronic shortness of breath/coughing/chest pain, and some w/ persistent exercise intolerance (still present >=1 year after infection and counting)
- Chronic fatigue/mental fogginess/body or joint aches
- Chronic headaches
- Cardiac effects such as myocarditis (heart condition precluding some activities and needing long-term monitoring)
- Long term complications related to Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children (MIS-C, https://www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/conditions/COVID-19/Pages/covid_inflammatory_condition.aspx)
- Poor appetite with failure to thrive, some may be related to chronic loss of taste/smell, some related to chronic nausea
- Psychological effects such as depression and/or anxiety
Some parents have been concerned or apprehensive about the COVID vaccine and have been turning to the internet, friends, family, healthcare providers and/or social media for advice and information. Please make sure you are getting your information from credible sources, and as always, ask us. We’re happy to provide information, direct you to research, and answer questions. The current Pfizer vaccine approved is a messenger-RNA vaccine which means the vaccine supplies the code for a harmless protein that has some elements similar to a COVID protein. The body makes a response to the protein by generating antibodies. The mRNA is destroyed by the cells and the proteins break down and get cleared away, but the antibodies stick around and are ready to respond in case the real COVID virus comes around. The mRNA does not get incorporated into the genome because it is destroyed.
When contemplating vaccinating your child against COVID, the decision comes down to a risk/benefit analysis. The chances that a pediatric person could both acquire the virus and have a serious or chronic health condition from the COVID virus is estimated to be much, much higher than any potential risk of the vaccine. We, as pediatricians, received the vaccine as soon we could and were extremely grateful to have had the privilege to get it early. We all vaccinated our children who have qualified, and we all plan to vaccinate our children who are under age as soon as they qualify because we understand how serious this virus is.
As more and more things reopen, it will get more difficult to protect our youth from this virus. Therefore, we strongly encourage you to have your child/youth vaccinated mostly for their own sake. Of course, this will also help with community spread.
With regard to attending school for elementary school-aged kids/kindergarteners who have to wait for their vaccine, the benefits of being in-person for school with precautions likely outweigh the risks in many circumstances (everyone has their own unique situation, so this may not always be true).
If you need help finding the vaccine, you can use Vaccine Finder (www.vaccines.gov), check with local pharmacies and the Wisconsin Center (running until the end of May), and we plan to offer it late May/early June at our clinic.
We welcome any questions or concerns that you have about the vaccine.
As always, thank you for the great privilege of caring for your family.