COVID-19 and Children: UCLA Pediatrician Answers Questions
As kids head back to school, many parents have questions about vaccinating their children against COVID-19. In June, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) expanded eligibility for COVID-19 vaccines to children ages six months and older.
Parents are asking: Is it really okay for kids to get a COVID-19 vaccine? Will a vaccine keep them safe? Who should get a booster? 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.
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, people who have had severe allergic reactions to other vaccines in the past, or have a medical history of allergies, should get vaccinated in a medical office with supervision, rather than 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 these conditions after a COVID-19 vaccine is much lower than the risk of getting them because of COVID-19 itself. Most patients with these conditions 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?
Because the vaccine’s protection against COVID-19 lessens over time, it’s important to stay up to date with boosters. Children ages 5 and older can get a Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine booster. Some children and teens who are at higher risk of severe COVID-19 may need additional shots. Talk to your doctor to see if your child is eligible. CDC does not currently recommend a booster dose for children and teens who received the Moderna vaccine, though that may change.
Should kids still wear masks after being vaccinated?
CDC recommends that everyone ages 2 years and older properly wear a well-fitting mask indoors in public in areas where the COVID-19 Community Level is high. This is 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 reduce the spread of the virus in the community . 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.
Last updated, September 7, 2022