COVID-19 and Back to School

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Dr. Jaime Deville

COVID-19 and Back to School: UCLA Pediatrician Answers Questions

The back-to-school season is shaping up to be like none other, and parents have questions. How do you keep kids safe during this new phase of the pandemic? 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 recently served as a safety monitor for a COVID-19 vaccines and treatments trial. 

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Dr. Jaime Deville

Why should parents of children ages 12 and older trust the vaccine?

In May of this year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) expanded the emergency use authorization (EUA) for the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to include kids 12 to 15 years old. The FDA’s expanded EUA was based on a rigorous and thorough review of data from a clinical trial of the vaccine in 2,260 12- to 15-year-olds that found it to be safe and highly effective. The vaccine is proving to be effective against hospitalizations and death, even in the face of new virus variants (mutations). There is no scientific data indicating problems with this vaccine, and hundreds of millions of people have already safely received it. We expect it will be as safe and effective against COVID-19 for children 12 and older as it is for adults 16 and older.

A frequent concern for the 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.

Are there any ongoing trials yet for children ages 5-11 years?

Yes, trials of the Pfizer vaccine in this age group are underway, and we are hopeful they will be completed soon, so that even more in the community can be vaccinated to reduce infections, deaths, and virus transmission.

What are the side effects of the shot in children older than age 12?

No severe side effects were reported in the more than 2,000 children who participated in the Pfizer clinical trial. Researchers saw side effects similar to those in adult trial participants — like tenderness and redness in 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 myocarditis (inflammation of the heart) as a rare side effect of the COVID-19 vaccine?

The instances of myocarditis have been very sporadic. Also, a different kind of virus named enterovirus causes myocarditis in the community this time of the year, every year. Thus, we need more studies to determine if the relationship between myocarditis and the COVID-19 vaccination status is temporal or causal.

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

The childhood vaccination schedule is usually completed by the time the child is 12 years old. If the child has not completed the shots, 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 in the future?

Presently, there are no guidelines for boosters for children under 16 years old. Teens 16-17 years old can get a Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine booster.

Should kids still wear masks after being vaccinated?

Due to the aggressive profile of the Delta variant and its transmissibility within the community, the current recommendation of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is that all students ages 2 and older, as well as school staff and visitors, use masks indoors regardless of their vaccination status.

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

The vaccines against COVID are clearly safe and highly effective and 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 the kids receive the two doses, parents can breathe easier that their kids are on the other side of uncertainty.

Read the interview in Spanish at Univision.com.

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.