On Monday, May 10, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorized use of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for children in the United States age 12 and older. Two days later, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) independent Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices also voted unanimously to recommend the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine be used in 12-15-year-olds. This is an exciting and enormous step forward in our fight to end the COVID-19 pandemic.
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 concerns 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 their decision to have their children vaccinated.
This is one 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 wait to have these conversations. Reach out and have them now.
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.
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, more than 3.85 million 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 to 15.
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. But there has been no report of any safety concerns in kids 12 and older, and it is very effective at protecting against infection for the person receiving the vaccine.
This is a question we are hearing almost daily. 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 person. That’s how similar these two proteins in question are.
There is also this to consider for risk of fertility. As of May 3, 2021, the CDC was actively tracking nearly 5,000 pregnant women who had received the vaccine, with an additional 106,241 pregnant women self-identifying as pregnant in the CDC’s safety registry monitoring. There is no evidence that the COVID-19 vaccines have caused any issues with those pregnancies. The registries and data collected from the CDC will be public and would help identify any concerns moving forward.
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.