‘We’re here for you’: How LA pediatrician comforts vaccine-hesitant parents

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To some parents who are hesitant to vaccinate their young children against the coronavirus, Dr. Oliver Brooks says he would not endorse the Pfizer shots if he didn’t think they were safe. Photo by Shutterstock.

After the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention signed off on the Pfizer vaccine for children ages 5 and 11, a growing number of young Californians are getting their jabs. 

Orange County officials said more than 7,700 doses were administered for kids as of early November. And the Los Angeles Unified School District says more than 70% of its students have had at least one dose of the Pfizer vaccine.  

But despite health officials urging that youngsters get vaccinated as winter approaches, some parents still remain hesitant about the shots.

Dr.Oliver Brooks, chief medical officer of Watts Healthcare and a member of the CDC Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), addresses common concerns by parents.

KCRW: How high of a dose do 5 through 11-year-olds get? And how effective is it?

Dr. Oliver Brooks: They're getting one-third the adult dose. It was studied in this fashion because the feeling was that children have better immune reactions, and they're smaller. The efficacy is 90.9% against illness. It is very efficacious and very safe.

What side effects should parents expect after they get their kids vaccinated?

The side effect profile in the children is not too different from adults. In this 5 to 11 group, it’s very similar to the group that it was compared against, which was the 12 to 25-year-olds.

Typical side effects include redness, swelling and pain at the injection site. That's called a local reaction, and that is not uncommon. That would not be strange for your child to get it.

There are also what's called systemic reactions, which means not necessarily right there at the site but throughout the body. What you can see is fever, headache, fatigue, chills [and] some muscle pain. Children had for some reason more nausea and vomiting than adults.

If something seems out of whack, if it's a very high fever, the child is exceptionally tired or vomiting uncontrollably, then contact your pediatrician. But that generally was not the experience in the clinical trials and likely not going to be the experience of our children.

What’s the likelihood of a Moderna shot for kids coming? 

I do believe that there will be a Moderna application for 5 to 11-year-olds likely in the next month or so. Then what'll happen is the FDA will review it and then the ACIP will review it. If it is approved … I'd say early to mid next year.

How far away are we from vaccinating kids under 5?

I would expect to see that — if it receives approval — sometime next year. 

But if you get the majority of these people that are from 5 years to 99 years vaccinated, then there will be a cocoon ... around the six month the 4-year-olds that are uninfected or have a low transmission potential. 

The more people we get vaccinated, the less problem it will be for these unvaccinated 6 months to 4-year-olds.

What concerns have you heard from anxious parents?

“The vaccine was developed too fast. There weren't enough children in the study. We didn't have enough time to really know for sure if this is safe for children.”

Then the basic concepts of “it’s a conspiracy” that there’s no real COVID out there.

… I talk to them and say, “First of all, vaccines that come down to a lower age group are brought in the same fashion.” 

There are about 3,000 children in these studies, and that's about the same number as you have for other vaccines that start in adults and move down to children. So I say that's routine.

On whether it's developed too fast, I say, “No, it wasn't too fast. It was more or less following the same time frame.”

And what you see in vaccines is the reaction to problems happening in the first six weeks. You very, very rarely see problems out further than six weeks in the studies where it showed safety down to that [time frame]. 

I tell them that we vaccinate children all the time and that children are more highly vaccinated, seemingly, than adults. 

… I also tell them not to worry because I would not endorse this vaccine or wouldn't give it to my patients if I did not think it was safe.

Are parents receptive when you speak clearly about how life-saving the vaccine can be?

Some are [receptive], while there are some that are intransigent. They're just dug in, and you're just not going to get a lot of change in their minds. 

But for us, we have to try, and we have to be persistent. If I can't change someone's mind when I speak to them the first time, I say, “I’m always here, the vaccine will be here, your child will be here. If something changes in the next number of days, weeks, months, we're here for you.”

For families who are receptive to advice, how do they act? 

It’s just kind of a routine for them. They say, “I got my child vaccinated against measles, mumps and rubella, whooping cough, and hepatitis. This is another vaccine.”

They are pleased that we have gotten to this point where this potentially deadly virus, for which there is a vaccine, is now recommended for their 5 to 11-year-olds.



Matt Guilhem


Tara Atrian