Since May 2021, everyone 12 years old and older has been eligible to get the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. Now, we’re looking ahead to kids 5 to 11 years old having that chance. On Oct. 29, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorized the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use in children 5-11. On Nov. 2, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also endorsed the vaccine for children ages 5-11.
We know that parents want to make the best decisions for their kids. While many families are eager to have their children vaccinated, we know some parents have questions and may not know what information to trust or how to evaluate what they are reading or hearing from friends and family members.
We’ve heard many of those concerns and we wanted to address them head-on. Below are answers to some common questions we’ve received from families that are impacting the decision to have their children vaccinated.
This is one concern we are happy to hear. Children’s Wisconsin pediatricians and specialists are prepared and eager to talk with families and share what their medical advice would be — it’s what they’re there for! Families should understand why a medication or vaccine is being recommended and support the decision to do so. Don’t hesitate to have these conversations.
The COVID-19 vaccines are going through the same safety process as other vaccines. The process has gone quicker because of significant advances in sciences over the past decade as well as the removal of red tape, but the process is complete, safe and sound. Unlike smaller clinical trials, COVID-19 vaccines trials have had thousands of participants, providing even more data than a typical review. For vaccines that have been approved, the results have shown the vaccine to be safe and effective and that benefits clearly outweigh any risk.
The other side of this we have heard is that there is no way to know long-term impacts or issues. How can we know what will happen in 5, 10 or 20 years. While true, the process in how these vaccines are produced and how the vaccines work in our bodies present no evidence or concerns about long-term impacts. The mRNA technology behind the COVID-19 vaccine is not new. Vaccines using mRNA have been studied for years in people for everything from HIV to rabies and it has been shown to be safe.
Another response that shows families want to make informed and thoughtful decisions. We love it.
The role of kids in the pandemic is complex. But kids do get infected with COVID-19. In fact, nearly 6.3 million children have tested positive in the United States since the start of the pandemic.
While kids do typically experience less severe symptoms than adults, that isn’t always the case. Some kids, including some treated right here at Children’s Wisconsin, have developed Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children, or MIS-C. While rare, it is a serious inflammatory condition. Across the country, thousands have been hospitalized and hundreds of kids have died.
The clinical trial for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine showed it is even more effective in adolescents than adults. The FDA cited 100 percent effectiveness in preventing COVID-19 in kids age 12-15, and greater than 90 percent effective in kids 5-11.
Like adults, there are some things we don’t yet know about the vaccine. For example, we’re still learning how effective is it at preventing transmission between people and how long immunity will last. The research shows the vaccine is very effective at preventing serious infection and hospitalizations.
Myocarditis, inflammation of the heart, continues to be a very rare side effect, but is also a rare symptom of COVID-19 infections. The safety monitoring in place for the vaccine identified this rare side effect and continues to be carefully monitored.
We continue to hear this question. To put it plainly, there is absolutely no evidence that any vaccines, including the COVID-19 vaccines, cause fertility problems.
One of the leading reasons this question has come up is because of the COVID-19 protein the vaccines target is similar to a protein that is an important component of the placenta in mammals, including humans. Some believe that if the body was trained to attack the COVID-19 protein, it could also attack the protein for the placenta, causing it not to grow.
While on the surface the statement sounds plausible, the actual biological argument falls short. The body has many very similar proteins that co-exist to help the body function. There’s no evidence the COVID-19 vaccine proteins interfere with reproductive ones. Think of the two proteins as phone numbers. Two different phone numbers may both contain the numbers 6 and 2, perhaps even in that order, but those two numbers don’t call the same phone. That’s how similar these two proteins in question are.
There is also this to consider for risk of fertility — the CDC has been monitoring nearly 2,500 pregnant women who received the COVID-19 vaccine, and their analysis shows no evidence the vaccines have caused any issues with those pregnancies. In fact, when a pregnant woman receives the COVID-19 vaccine, it builds antibodies that might also protect their baby from infection. The CDC, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and the Society for Maternal Fetal Medicine all recommend women who are pregnant to get the COVID-19 vaccine if eligible.
This simply does not have any scientific basis. The vaccines use something known as mRNA and it’s very different than DNA. The vaccine mRNA does not change a person’s DNA, no matter a person’s age. Parents should not worry that mRNA vaccines will change their child’s DNA.
If you have any additional questions or concerns, please talk to your child’s pediatrician. They know their medical history better than anyone and can provide the best medical advice.
We are offering the COVID-19 vaccine at all of our primary care offices, and you can make your appointment easily online by visiting childrenswi.org/covidvaccine.