With the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approving emergency use authorization for COVID-19 vaccines, we sat down with Michael Gutzeit, MD, the chief medical officer at Children’s Wisconsin, and asked him some questions we have been hearing from parents about the vaccine.
Here are his responses, edited for length.
1. Is Children’s Wisconsin receiving doses of the COVID-19 vaccine?
Yes. Children’s Wisconsin has received initial doses of the vaccine from the state. This is allowing us to begin vaccinating our teams who work on the front-lines with kids and families.
2. How are you deciding who gets the vaccine?
We are following national and state guidelines for who will get the vaccine first. At Children’s Wisconsin, that means doctors, staff and other providers who are caring for kids and who choose to receive the vaccine. This includes our surgeons, nurses, pediatricians at our primary care offices, emergency room staff and others.
Children were not included in the initial clinical trials, so they will not be eligible to receive the vaccine for the foreseeable future.
3. What if I only want my child treated by staff who have received the vaccine? My child is immunocompromised and medically complex.
I love this question because it shows how involved parents are in the care of their children.
Our teams are taking many steps to limit the potential spread of the virus. Since the pandemic started, we have been able to care for kids who are extremely sick and staying at our hospitals.
Getting vaccinated is another step we can take to protect each other. However, it will be some time before everyone who wants the vaccine is able to get it. We are prioritizing offering the vaccine to our teams who work directly with kids and families.
4. When do you expect kids will be able to get the COVID-19 vaccine?
That is a hard to say right now. In early December, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicated that kids will likely not receive the vaccine in the first half of 2021.
Kids were not included in the initial clinical trials and are not included in the FDA’s emergency use review.
Trials including kids have started that will provide more data. However, even if it is deemed safe, it is expected that healthy children will be near the last in the priority list for those to receive the vaccine.
5. What about immunocompromised or medically complex children? Will there be special considerations for those or other children?
A very important question. The CDC is still evaluating recommendations so there isn’t a definitive answer right now.
This is an area our doctors will continue to watch and evaluate closely.
It is important to remember that as more eligible people get vaccinated, the less prevalent the virus will be. That will reduce the risk of the virus for those who are not able to get the vaccine.
People who get the vaccine are not only protecting themselves, but helping to reduce the risk for everyone.
6. Is this a live virus vaccine? Could it make others I come in contact with sick?
These are mRNA vaccines, not live virus vaccines. Therefore, they should not make you contagious or shed live virus.
7. I’m an expecting or breastfeeding mother. Should I get a vaccine?
The first phase of the clinical trials only had a dozen or so pregnant women in the study. That isn’t enough data to provide a clear recommendation. It is a conversation you should have with your OBGYN.
Similarly for breastfeeding mothers, the vaccine study did not provide enough data for a clear recommendation. You should have a conversation with your physician and review information from the CDC to make an informed decision regarding vaccination.
8. Should I be nervous about how fast the vaccine was created? Is it safer to wait and make sure there aren’t side effects that haven’t been identified?
An understandable question that many have, and one I have asked myself, as well.
I have the privilege of having colleagues who specialize in infectious disease and are familiar with the process that was used to create and approve the vaccine. Our experts, as well as others around the world, say the process is sound and they have confidence in the vaccine.
While there are no guarantees, no evidence suggests the vaccines being considered have long-term health effects.
I value the expertise and experience these doctors and scientists have, and the recommendation they are making. As someone eligible to receive the vaccine in the first wave, I will get it.
9. I have heard that hospitals are not requiring the COVID-19 vaccine, even though they require the flu vaccine. Does this show there is doubt about the vaccine?
I can see how someone might think that. I have even heard this question asked by our own staff, as we are encouraging but not requiring staff to get the vaccine.
The results of the clinical trials show this vaccine is very effective at protecting against COVID-19. The processes used to create the vaccines have been used before, just not at this scale. Based on the data and experience, risk appears to be very low.
If you are questioning if you should or should not get the vaccine, I highly encourage you to talk with your doctor. You and your doctor can discuss your personal health and concerns, and how that weighs with the data and recommendations being made.
10. Are you going to get the vaccine?
Yes. Not only have I reviewed the available data and trust the recommendations being made, I have seen the impact this virus has had on our health systems — not to mention the difficult decisions it has forced on our communities, such as if we should teach kids virtually or in person.
I believe this vaccine is our best option for controlling the virus, and I will get it when I am eligible to receive it.
11. How many Children’s Wisconsin staff and doctors have gotten the vaccine?
This number will be changing on a daily and weekly basis. Our goal is to vaccinate all staff members who want to get vaccinated.
12. If your staff receive the vaccine, does this mean they can stop wearing a mask?
No. Anyone who receives the COVID-19 vaccine must still continue to follow all safety measures in place at Children’s Wisconsin, including wearing a mask and eye protection, and practicing physical distancing of at least six feet whenever possible. While the vaccine is effective in preventing illness in the person who is vaccinated, it will be some time before there is evidence that it also prevents individuals from transmitting the virus. Until then, we will need to practice these public health measures.
13. Where can I find additional information about COVID-19 vaccines?
We will continue to update this page with more information about the COVID-19 vaccination as it becomes available.
Additional information about steps Children’s Wisconsin has taken in response to COVID-19 to keep kids and families safe is available at childrenswi.org/coronavirus.