For kids and families, the past 20 months of this pandemic have been incredibly challenging: dealing with uncertainty about how sick kids might get from COVID-19, keeping up with lockdowns and school closures, navigating working from home while homeschooling, worrying about aging parents and being constantly barraged with information — and misinformation — at every turn.
Like many of you, I have a busy household between school, demanding careers and growing kids. And with recent outbreaks in the Yukon, our kids have had to miss even more school and get tested yet again — you all know the drill by now.
Fortunately, the impacts of COVID-19 tend to be less severe in kids than in adults, although we have seen cases of children becoming very ill and needing to be hospitalized (in Canada, about 0.2% of children aged 5 to 11 years infected with the virus have been hospitalized and 0.002% have died). Young patients may also experience what we call “Long COVID” and MIS-C (a post COVID-19 inflammatory condition).
Having said that, the biggest impact for kids has been on their mental health. From the never-ending cycles of lockdowns and school closures to the loss of caregivers and isolation from friends, concerns with children’s mental health have dramatically increased during this time.
The recent approval of the vaccine for 5 to 11-year-olds gives me hope. Vaccines are a miracle of science and are one of the key tools we need to find our way out of this pandemic and give kids their lives back. The evidence confirms this vaccine is safe and effective, generating a robust immune response. In the US alone, more than 3 million doses have been given to kids with no new safety concerns.
As a pediatrician, I’ve spent the last 20 years helping parents navigate health decisions for their kids. Every decision a parent makes is based on an analysis of risk and benefit. The benefits of vaccination are clear: it has tamed many diseases that once threatened children and COVID-19 is no exception. Today, I’d like to share some of the top questions I get asked about the COVID-19 vaccine and the reasoning and evidence behind the answers I give.
Fortunately, children rarely die from an infectious disease. However, some kids do get very sick and there’s simply no way to know who will have a bad outcome. Vaccines dramatically reduce these risks, with minimal side effects — think of it like wearing a seatbelt every time you get in the car.
Myocarditis is the most serious side effect we’ve seen from the mRNA vaccines, mostly affecting adolescent boys and young men. Almost all cases have been mild and have resolved by themselves. The risk of getting severe myocarditis is much higher with COVID-19 infection, which makes getting the vaccine all the more important. That being said, the scientific community expects that the number of myocarditis cases will be rare for the 5–11-year-old age group, and are closely monitoring health data from the US and Canada.
There’s no scientific reason to believe the COVID-19 vaccines will have any long-term side effects. The mRNA is only in the body for a few days to prime the immune system to make antibodies to the spike protein; then, it disappears.
If you have a child with special needs or one who is really afraid of needles, Solutions for Kids in Pain (SKIP) is another great resource. The advice I would give is to set your kid up for success by talking with them honestly about what to expect, giving them control over choices that are theirs to make, providing a distraction and considering using a topical numbing cream to dull the prick. As a parent, we have the opportunity to set the tone in these moments and can work with our children to make the experience positive. Building their confidence and placing trust in their ability to do hard things also helps build their resilience.
For more information and common questions, I would also recommend resources such as Max the Vax and Immunizing Children with Confidence.
Before I sign off, know that I see you and thank you for all you’ve done to hold your families together during this unprecedented time in history. We will get through this together with kindness, curiosity and hope.