COVID-19 and Children: UCLA Pediatrician Answers Questions

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Dr. Jaime Deville

As we move forward through this new phase of the pandemic, many parents have questions. How do we keep kids safe? Is it really okay for them to get a COVID-19 vaccine? To get some answers, we spoke with Dr. Jaime Deville, a pediatrician and clinical professor at the University of California at Los Angeles. Born in Peru, Deville has seen firsthand the loss and devastation the pandemic has had on his community and family. He also has been studying vaccines for more than 20 years and served as a safety monitor for a COVID-19 vaccines and treatments trial. 

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Dr. Jaime Deville

Why should parents trust the vaccine?

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorized COVID-19 vaccines for children only after rigorous and thorough reviews of data from clinical trials. These clinical trials, which included thousands of children, found the vaccines to be safe and effective. COVID-19 vaccines are proving to be effective against hospitalizations and death, even in the face of new virus variants (mutations). Hundreds of millions of people, including millions of children, have already safely received COVID-19 vaccinations.

A frequent concern for parents is that the vaccines were developed too quickly. Is that true?

Parents should know that when COVID-19 appeared in 2019, we had already put 17 years of research into developing vaccines against two previous coronaviruses, called SARS and MERS. Also, because COVID-19 became a global threat, a large amount of funding was put into research that led to the discovery of new vaccines. Many people quickly volunteered to participate in the vaccine clinical trials, and as a result, it was possible to move faster. The bottom line is that the process of evaluating the safety of the vaccine was thorough, rigorous, and not rushed.

What are the side effects of the shot in children?

Most side effects in children are mild and brief, similar to what is seen in adults — side effects like tenderness and redness at the injection site, sometimes light fever, headaches. Out of an abundance of caution, it is recommended that people who have had severe allergic reactions to other vaccines in the past, or have a medical history of allergies, get vaccinated in a medical office with supervision. Do not go to a pharmacy.

What do we know about heart inflammation as a rare side effect of the COVID-19 vaccine?

The benefits of COVID-19 vaccination continue to outweigh the risks for young people. Rare cases of myocarditis, inflammation of the heart muscle, and pericarditis, inflammation of the outer lining around the heart, have been reported after COVID-19 vaccination. But the risk of myocarditis after a COVID-19 vaccine is much lower than the risk of having myocarditis because of COVID-19 itself. Most patients with myocarditis or pericarditis felt better with medical care and rest.

Can kids still get the flu shot or other yearly shots, or are those affected by the COVID-19 vaccine?

There is no problem in receiving the COVID-19 vaccine along with other childhood vaccines, or with the annual flu shot. But if the family prefers to space out the shots, this is fine as well.

Will kids need a booster shot?

Children ages 5 and older can get a Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine booster.

Should kids still wear masks after being vaccinated?

The current recommendation of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is that everyone ages 2 years and older should properly wear a well-fitting mask indoors in public in areas where the COVID-19 Community Level is high, regardless of vaccination status.

Is there anything else you would like to tell parents who are still hesitant?

The vaccines against COVID are clearly safe and effective at lowering the risk of severe illness and death. Vaccination can provide parents with a peace of mind that they would not have if their children were unvaccinated. The vaccines also prevent community transmission. Once kids receive their vaccine doses, parents can breathe easier knowing that their kids are on the other side of uncertainty.

Dr. Jaime Deville is a member of the Advisory Commission on Childhood Vaccines for the Health Resources and Services Administration of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. He is also a member of the National Advisory Committee of the National Hispanic Medical Association.

For more information on the COVID-19 vaccine, its safety for children, and the best guidelines for returning to in-person learning, please visit the CDC. To find a vaccination center near you, visit https://www.vaccines.gov.