COVID-19

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Every Question You Have About Kids & A COVID-19 Vaccine

Like asking your pediatrician, "Would you give this to your kids?"

In the months since the novel coronavirus entered the United States, researchers have made promising gains in vaccine development. With new information though also comes an influx of uncertainty. While all of the questions you have about kids and a COVID-19 vaccine can't be fully answered yet, expert insight offers a look at what parents can expect. I can't speak for every parent out there, but I know my own mind is swirling with queries for our pediatrician.

Recent reports from Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine trial show that an early analysis reveals the vaccine may be up to 90% effective in preventing symptomatic illness. The company plans to apply for emergency use authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as soon as the third week in November, according to a Pfizer press release. Additionally, Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine trial results show a 94.5% efficacy rate, and their press release details a plan to submit to the FDA for emergency use authorization in the coming weeks as well.

This timeline points to the possibility of two vaccines being available to distribute before the end of 2020 to the most vulnerable populations. There are multiple versions of a COVID-19 vaccine in the works, but the high efficacy rates shown in trial phases by Moderna and Pfizer mark a promising turn in the fight against COVID-19.

However, the speed at which these vaccines have been developed and tested means that there is still much that researchers and physicians alike do not know about the long-term impacts of a vaccine. Questions also still remain about vaccine manufacturing and distribution.

Although much is still unknown, hope remains that a vaccine could help quell the spread of COVID-19 enough to allow a return to our pre-quarantine lifestyles. To help address some of the concerns parents may have about COVID-19 vaccines and kids, Romper asked experts to weigh in. Despite the uncertainty, it's still important for parents to be informed and have their questions answered.

1
At what age is it safe to get a COVID-19 vaccine?

It is unclear at this point what the official recommendation will be for the age of administration of a COVID-19 vaccine, but experts point to other childhood vaccines to surmise an educated guess. The actual answer will come when full safety information regarding the vaccine is released.

"Some vaccines, like hepatitis B, are safe enough to get close to birth while others, like the influenza vaccine, are given to babies when they are over 6 months old," Los Angeles-based physician Dr. Bita Nasseri tells Romper. She says that since the COVID vaccine is so new, and as far as statistics are concerned, children are affected by the coronavirus differently than adults, it may be advised for kids to wait until they're a bit older to receive the vaccine. But again, there's not any official recommendation on this.

2
What are the potential immediate side effects of a COVID-19 vaccine for kids?

"All vaccines have potential side effects, but we have only just begun trials with children, so we don’t know yet," Dr. Susan V. Lipton, MD, MPH, Chief of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Sinai Hospital of Baltimore tells Romper. "The object of any vaccine is to limit side effects while preventing the virus or disease."

Based on the current trial research available, Dr. Nasseri explains, "Just like any vaccine, it is expected to cause minor symptoms of a viral infection, including low-grade fever, fatigue, body aches, and muscle soreness." Not because you're being injected with any kind of virus, but because there is a shot site where muscle soreness can occur, and because there is also some research that suggests your immune system is reacting to the vaccine and may have some of these side effects.

More information should be available as the vaccine trials continue and FDA approval is sought. "Most vaccines that have been FDA-approved do not have very commonly occurring serious or life threatening side effects at anything more that one per 100,000 or one per million doses," Nasseri tells Romper.

3
Are there any known long-term effects of a COVID-19 vaccine?
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"Since the vaccines are very new, it is possible that there are either rare reactions or also undiscovered long-term effects," Nasseri tells Romper. "Without proper long-term studies, it's hard to say what those may be and how often they occur."

With the vaccine (and even the virus itself) still in its infancy, it may be some time before any answers to this question are available. "It’s such a new virus that the vaccine has not been studied long term in anyone," Lipton says. "No one can know for sure right now."

4
Will a vaccine effectively protect children from contracting COVID-19?

"This is a hard answer as most vaccine trials need to demonstrate at least a 50% effect in preventing illness, or alternatively demonstrate at least a 50% decrease in transmission by people who contract the virus. It will also depend on what the rest of the research and each of the clinical trials demonstrate," Nasseri tells Romper.

Despite the promising news of high efficacy rates for both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine trials, neither company has released study results that directly address either vaccine's efficacy in children specifically.

Nasseri says that there really isn't extensive research on how COVID affects children, except for the rare MIS-C, which occurs in less than one in 10,000 to one in 100,000 children weeks after a COVID-19 infection. "It is therefore difficult to demonstrate that children will have adequate and lasting immunity from any of the vaccines yet," she explains. "Once the trials are completed and a good number of children have received the vaccine and been followed closely for any of the potential side effects, the medical and scientific community can weigh in properly."

5
Can kids continue getting their routine vaccinations whether or not they receive the COVID-19 vaccine?

"Kids should absolutely get their routine vaccinations whether or not they receive the COVID-19 vaccine," Lipton tells Romper.

Since current vaccine trials have mostly been administered to adults, these subjects have likely had their adult and childhood vaccinations. "There is limited to no data currently on the interactions with other vaccinations, and the COVID-19 vaccine will come with its own safety protocols," Dr. Niket Sonpal, a New York-based internist and gastroenterologist, tells Romper.

Instrumental in protecting children from illness, it's imperative to continue vaccinations as recommended by your child's pediatrician. Nasseri calls the resurgence of infections such as measles and whooping cough "a realistic concern," to stress the importance of continuing with routine vaccinations.

6
How long will the vaccine protect children for?

Although there is no data available to answer this particular question, it is worth discussing with your child's physician prior to vaccine administration. "The most important question will be how long does this vaccine confer immunity, and if it will require a repeat booster or yearly injection for new strains," Sonpal explains.

7
How can parents approach their pediatricians with questions about a COVID-19 vaccine?

During your child's next visit with their doctor, it's likely the topic of vaccines will come up. When it comes to a COVID-19 vaccine, Nasseri says, "Just like any vaccine, it is important to ask their physician if they know the data about the specific vaccine being offered."

Because the information about this specific vaccine is continuously evolving, inquiring about potential side effects and efficacy rate at the time of your visit is a good idea. Your doctor may have access to new information that you have not yet seen.

"I think the best question to always ask when you are concerned about anything recommended by your doctor is, 'Are you doing this for your own children or grandchildren?'" Lipton tells Romper. Your child's pediatrician is the best direct resource you have for specific questions about a COVID-19 vaccine and your kids.

Experts:

Dr. Susan V. Lipton, MPH, Chief, Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Samuelson Children’s Hospital at Sinai Hospital of Baltimore and Chief, Section on Infectious Diseases, Maryland American Academy of Pediatrics

Dr. Bita Nasseri, Los Angeles-based physician

Dr. Niket Sonpal, New York-based internist, gastroenterologist, and adjunct professor at Touro College