In case you haven’t heard, in June, the Food and Drug Administration authorized COVID vaccines for children between 6 months and 5 years of age. This is a big development in the effort to contain COVID-19.
Now’s a good time to take advantage of the COVID vaccine. In addition to protecting your little ones against serious illness and hospitalization, vaccinating your kids will keep them in daycare, school, sports, and other activities vital to their development by shortening their illness.
Are COVID vaccines safe for kids?
Yes! Scientific studies with thousands of kids have shown that children tolerate the COVID vaccines well. Side effects are usually minimal, mild, and only last a day or two. Arm soreness, fever, and fatigue are most common. If your child or grandchild experiences these symptoms, it just means the vaccine has triggered an immune response. In other words: it’s working! That’s a good thing, and it’s a lot better than being sick for a long time, getting hospitalized, or developing Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome (MIS-C) as a result of complications from COVID.
On top of that, we continue to study and monitor these vaccines. That’s how we know they’re safe when combined with flu shots and other childhood immunizations. The scientific community tends to be much more cautious with children and wanted to ensure that the COVID vaccine was evaluated as carefully as possible to ensure children’s safety.
How effective are the COVID vaccines for children?
Early in the pandemic vaccines were remarkably effective in preventing infection; however, vaccines are less effective in total prevention of infection of emerging variants of the virus. That’s the bad news. The good news is that vaccines are still remarkably effective at preventing serious illness, hospitalization, long-haul COVID, MIS-C, and other complications, even as new variants of the coronavirus come and go.
That’s especially important for young children. Socializing with others at daycare or school and through other activities is crucial to development. Vaccinating kids means they’re less likely to miss prolonged periods of school and activities if they are infected with COVID. And that’s a big deal. Research has shown that kids who are chronically absent in pre-kindergarten and kindergarten are more likely to miss academic milestones and face social, emotional, and behavioral problems. For example, missing just 10 percent of a school year — about two days per month — can make it harder to develop a strong base for learning. The likelihood of repeating grades increases, too.
Where can kids get vaccinated in Mendocino County?
Right now, Pfizer and Moderna are the only COVID vaccines authorized for kids under five. At MCHC Health Centers, we’re administering the Pfizer vaccine, which requires three doses: an initial dose, a second shot three weeks later, and a final dose eight weeks after that. It’s important to get all three doses to maximize effectiveness. Keep in mind that vaccine doses for children are much smaller — about one-tenth of an adult dose for the Pfizer vaccine for the 6-month to 5-year age group. The goal is to use the least amount of vaccine possible to elicit an immune response that protects against serious illness.
Many healthcare facilities throughout Mendocino County are offering COVID vaccines for children younger than 5 years old, but not all, so it’s best to check before scheduling an appointment.
What else can I do to protect my kids or grandkids from COVID?
Vaccines are not the only way to bolster the body’s immune system. Exercising, sleeping enough, and eating a balanced diet helps keep kids’ immune systems strong. Staying up to date with other childhood immunizations is also important.
We’re all trying to avoid the coronavirus. At the same time, developing healthy children is about more than avoiding sickness. Social interaction—whether at school, in sports, or on playdates with friends—is an important part of growing up. The development of safe and effective vaccines helps our loved ones have protection against COVID.
Dr. Johnston is a pediatrician at MCHC Health Centers—a local, non-profit, federally qualified health center offering medical, dental, and behavioral health care to people in Lake and Mendocino Counties.