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The first COVID vaccines for children have arrived at Rady Children's Hospital and are quickly rolling out to locations across the region

By Miriam Raftery

Photo; CC by ND via Bing

November 3, 2021 (San Diego) – The nation’s top health official is urging parents to have children vaccinated against COVID-19 in time for the holidays, after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control approved the Pfizer COVID vaccine for children ages 5-11.  The federal action will make the shots available to 28 million children nationwide.

“This is another major milestone in our efforts to protect more children, their families, and our communities as we work to end the pandemic,” says Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra. “We are following the data and science, and after a thorough review by FDA and CDC, we are ready to get millions of children vaccinated. Thanks to their rigorous, comprehensive and independent review of the data, we know that vaccination of younger children against COVID-19 proved to be safe and effective.”

California has mandated vaccines for students in public schools – but only once vaccines have been fully approved, not merely for emergency use. So it will likely be months before the vaccines for children will be required in schoolchildren. But public health officials urge parents not to put their children and other family members at risk by delaying vaccinations. To date, 791 children in the U.S. have died of COVID-19 and locally, hundreds have been hospitalized with the fast-spreading virus.

NPR reports today that more than 8,300 kids aged 5 to 11 have been hospitalized with COVID-19 due to serious illness. According to a CDC analysis, the number of children and adolescents admitted to the hospital increased nearly five-fold over the summer months amid the delta surge.

In addition, more than 5,200 children and teens have developed MIS-C, or multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children, a condition linked to COVID-19 which often leads to ICU admission. The median age of kids getting MIS-C is 9 years old.


Becerra adds, “Looking toward winter and the holiday season, we have another significant opportunity to get ahead of this pandemic and protect kids ages 5-11 from what has become a cause of death in this age group. We know many families are trying to decide what is right for them, and we encourage anyone seeking additional information talk to a doctor or health care provider to get the facts. COVID-19 vaccines are the best way to protect yourself and those you love from COVID-19.”

The federal government is working with states, localities, pediatricians’ offices, children’s hospitals, pharmacies and other trusted health care providers for families to ensure equitable access to the vaccine nationwide.  Vaccines could be available within days locally.

Only the Pfizer vaccine has been approved by both the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the CDC as safe and effective for use in children. 

The FDA has delayed a decision on Moderna’s application for its vaccine in youngsters, stating that the agency needs more time to evaluate whether the shot may increase the risk of a rare cardiac side effect.

In anticipation of vaccine approvals for children, ECM last month interviewed two prominent local medical experts.

Dr. Mark Sawyer with Rady Children’s Hospital  revealed that hundreds of children have been treated at Rady Children’s Hospital for COVID-19, including 75 treated in the intensive care unit and another 75 diagnosed with multi-system inflammatory disease, a rare but serious complication of COVID-19 in children.  “To say that COVID is not serious in children is underestimating the virus,” he said.

Serious complications of the vaccines, such as blood clots and heart problems, have occurred in only a couple of cases per every million shots administered, he said. But COVID can cause the same serious conditions and more, so COVID poses a far greater threat to children and others than the vaccines, he indicated. dangerous to pregnant 

He debunked the false beliefs that children don’t transmit COVID and that masks can be harmful to children’s health. In fact children can and do transmit COVID, even if they have no symptoms, threatening the health of family members who may be more vulnerable, he noted, adding, “We need to include children in the vaccination and mask wearing campaign, but if we do that I’m pretty optimistic that we can get past this (pandemic) once and for all,” he predicted.

Dr. William Tseng, vaccine expert at Kaiser Permanente, said that contrary to popular belief, with the rapidly spreading Delta variant and kids back in school, kids are catching COVID—sometimes at very high rates.

Dr. Tseng cited two studies by the CDC. In the first case studied, an unvaccinated teacher took off her mask to read to school children.  “Fifty percent (half) of the kids in that classroom caught COVID,” says Dr. Tseng. “Every kid in the front row caught it.”  In addition, some infected children brought COVID home to family members, some of whom may be more vulnerable to serious complications or death.

The second study compared two summer camps for children.  The first had nine camp locations and a 93 percent vaccination rate among camp teachers and counselors.  They had 9 cases of COVID among over 7,000 campers and staff.  The other camp had 28 camps but had no recommendations for masking or vaccinations. Out of 3,000 people, 321 got COVID.

“That’s 10% vs. .1%,” Dr. Tseng observes, adding that vaccinations and masking “really works. Our goal is to really save lives and make sure you don’t get it [COVID]. Certainly if there’s a reason you can’t get it, I understand, but we should help each other prevent the spread of COVID and prevent unnecessary deaths.”

He adds that yet another study found that the very youngest children were most apt to transmit the disease to family members.

The doses for young children will be smaller than for adults.  The good news is that “even with a smaller dose, we’re getting the same amount of neutralizing antibodies,” Dr. Tseng says. He adds, “We really do want to be extra safe with children.”

Dr. Tseng said preliminary study results of safety and effectiveness look “good” thus far, adding that he is “excited” about the prospect of children soon being able to get vaccines to protect them and their families against COVID, a milestone towards ending the pandemic.

“Look at the real risk, not the perceived risk,” he advises parents and others weighing whether to get a vaccine for their children or themselves.

So what are the real risks?

Anaphylactic shock, a severe allergic reaction, occurs in about 5 in a million cases of COVID-19 vaccinations – or about 1 in 200,000.  The good news? “It’s 100% treatable…we know exactly what to do,” Dr. Tseng assures.

Pericarditis, an inflammation of the heart, has occurred primarily with Moderna and is also very rare. Not a single case of pericarditis occurred in tests of the low-dose Pfizer vaccine on children ages 5-11, NPR reports.  Fortunately, this condition also goes away after treatment with aspirin or ibuprofen, though it may persist for a few weeks. But Dr. Tseng says put that in perspective with this fact: “You are 16 times more likely to get pericarditis if you get COVID than from the vaccine.”  This has occurred primarily in young men and is fully treatable.

A rare type of blood clot has occurred with Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine, which is only approved for adults. Five deaths occurred before this link was identified, but now doctors are prepared.  “We also know exactly what to do in these cases. These are different types of clots. WE don’t give blood thinners,” Dr. Tseng says, adding that there is a different treatment for these clots that occur in only a handful of every million vaccine doses given. 

He urges people to think not only of themselves, but family members and neighbors.  “If we do that, we can get through this pandemic…If we can eradicate this virus off the face of the earth, we will be better off,” he says.


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