It’s Up To You: A Pediatrician On What Every Parent And Caregiver Should Know About The COVID-19 Vaccines
Dr. Ilan Shapiro answers some of the most asked questions about COVID-19.
While every parent wants their children to be healthy, 1 in 5 parents of kids aged 12 to 17 are still undecided about vaccinating their children against COVID-19. And while everyone has their own reason for whether or not they choose to get themselves or their children vaccinated, Dr. Ilan Shapiro knows firsthand how imperative it is for families to make informed decisions.
Born and raised in Mexico City, Shapiro currently serves as the Medical Director of Education and Wellness for AltaMed Health Services and as a spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics. And while COVID-19 has been unlike any other situation Shapiro has seen in his professional career, it is far from his first pandemic. Shapiro experienced his first pandemic – H1N1, more commonly known as swine flu – in 2009, which he says served as sort of a dress rehearsal for what we are experiencing right now. With H1N1, Shapiro says there was a lot of misinformation, especially within communities of color, which he is unfortunately seeing play out similarly with COVID-19. “This is the moment where we need to make sure that we are sharing correct information with every parent, sharing the same thing with kids, and – most importantly – understanding that right now we have the possibility of having a better December, January, and February,” Shapiro says. “The longer we wait, that sweet spot of getting protected and vaccinated, it will go away, and that's why it's so important that we continue doing these kinds of efforts.”
Romper recently spoke with Shapiro about what is at stake regarding COVID-19 vaccination, including but not limited to its benefits, efficacy, and impact on children.
The following interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
What would you say to someone who’s hesitant to get vaccinated against COVID-19?
It's perfectly okay to have questions. Especially right now, with the constant bombardment of information, we need to continue being critical. We, as health services providers, need to be wherever people are at, not wherever we as a health care system want them to be. That's the key factor here. We need to make and start conversations, we need to make sure that parents understand how important this vaccine is for kids, for the community, and most importantly, for humankind.
As someone who has devoted much of their time to health issues in Hispanic communities, how has the Hispanic population — in particular — been impacted by COVID-19?
A lot of people in the community have been asking me, “why is this virus attacking Hispanic communities?” In reality, it's the result of decades of social determinants towards healthcare. As a result, lots of Hispanic families and communities are already facing health issues like obesity, diabetes, depression, anxiety, among other ailments because of socio-economic factors. And because of this, we lagged at the beginning with COVID-19 testing, and now we are lagging with vaccination. Many of us are essential workers, which means if we do not go to work there will not be food to eat that day, which also compounds the problem. Simultaneously, a lot of the workplaces didn't have enough PPE for workers at the beginning, so there was a big compounding effect for what actually happened.
How effective are the vaccines?
We need to see the vaccines that we have here in the U.S. as a seatbelt that we use. The same way that when we go in our cars and we're driving and we end up in an accident where you may get pain in your neck, your shoulder, and your elbow but you will survive and you can actually tell the story afterwards. And that's why it's so important. That's why it's so important to actually have the vaccine because we want to have that seatbelt to cover ourselves and cover our families and cover all of us in case we have that accident called COVID-19. We need the vaccines to help people survive, to make sure people don’t have complications, to make sure you don’t share the virus with higher rates of unvaccinated patients, especially right now as we're seeing that more than 90% of people that end up in the hospitals are people that are unvaccinated. It's clear we need that seatbelt. It's clear we need to do the best things for all of us. And it starts with an honest conversation and a personal choice.
What side-effects should one expect after getting vaccinated against COVID-19?
The most common side-effects are a pain in the arm, a little bit of redness. You can have rashes around the area where you received the shot, you can feel tired, some get a little bit of a fever, some people get swollen lymph nodes in your neck and your axilla. Those are the most common ones.
A lot of people go, “doc, I'm very afraid of side effects,” and I am very open with that part. It's true, there are side effects; the FDA has said it, but you need to put a balance sheet in front of you. Any type of serious side effects are extremely rare. One thing is your feeling of being afraid, but we need to take that feeling away from us and we need to see the numbers of those who are directly affected by COVID-19. It's still safer to actually get vaccinated – protecting myself and my kids – than to have the full-blown effect of the virus.
What are the chances of having a severe allergic reaction to the COVID-19 vaccination and what can I do to minimize vaccine after-effects?
Right now, I have really, really good news. We haven't seen any major side-effects, specifically with kids. They have been mimicking the same ones that adults have.
One of the beautiful things you can do to minimize side effects is just drink tons of water. Make sure you take the evening of your shot to rest, that will be helpful. And if you have a fever or you're feeling weird, you can take over-the-counter medications and that will make you feel better.
Are vaccines effective against the Delta variant?
The great answer is yes! We actually have information that proves the vaccines are working and are defending our communities against the Delta variant.
Can fully vaccinated people get breakthrough COVID-19 cases?
The reality is yes. The same way that when you have a car accident and you're wearing your seatbelt that you can still have some pain. But the question is, “why are we vaccinating?” We're vaccinating to limit the amount of complications and the mortality rate. That's the most important thing that we use the vaccines for. More than 90% of people currently hospitalized from COVID are not vaccinated. With full vaccination, masks, and PPE (among other safety protocols), we create as many layers as we can between us and the infection.
What is the current status of the COVID-19 third/booster doses?
The CDC and the FDA have authorized them for people more than 65 years of age, people who have chronic diseases or are immunocompromised, and for health care workers — so people [who] are exposed to the virus.
How are adolescents who’ve been vaccinated against COVID-19 doing so far?
They have been doing amazingly well. I have seen a couple of them here in my clinic. And they have been doing awesome.
How important is it for eligible children to be vaccinated?
Since the Fourth of July, we have been seeing more cases in children to the point that practically in the past weeks, we saw 1 million new cases in kids. That's completely new for us. Thank God it's true that the mortality rate compared to adults is way smaller in kids. But you know, kids can still have prolonged COVID. They can still die from it. There are other things too, like multifactorial systemic syndrome. This virus is harming our kids.
Since authorization for kids 5+ is coming soon, is there anything additional parents should know?
In reality? No. The data that they have is exactly the same as for teens. But if you have doubts, talk to your pediatrician. Don't wait until it's authorized and start scrambling. There's already a lot of information out there that will tell you where you can stand.
Where can I find reliable information on COVID-19 and vaccines?
As a community, we all want to take care of our kids. We want to protect them. At the beginning, we didn't have enough information about masks or vaccines, but right now we know that the school districts who are using the masks more often or have higher amounts of vaccinations have had less breakthrough cases, and the kids tend to stay longer at school. That is good information for all of us as parents, especially if you were doubting if the mask or vaccines were working. At least right now we know that these precautions will protect [them]. And not only that, it will save a lot of headaches for teachers, for parents, and for others outside of the community.