The FDA and CDC are expected to soon green-light the use of Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine for kids ages 5 to 11. California says it’ll be ready with more than 1 million doses when that happens. But some parents may not be ready.
“Science has been politicized, and the vaccine just feels like, ‘Hey, gosh, this is something brand new. … Do I want to put this on my child?’ … And while technically the vaccine is new, it works the same as any other vaccine out there that protects children from diseases and sometimes fatal diseases,” says Dr. Katherine Williamson, a pediatrician at Children’s
Hospital of OC (CHOC), and past president of the Orange County chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
She says parents commonly ask whether vaccines will affect their children’s development, and this is where it’s important to understand the science behind the vaccines.
“The Pfizer vaccine, which is an mRNA vaccine, [has a] particle that goes into our body and tells our immune system, ‘Hey, we need an army for this particular virus.’ That mRNA dissolves within days. … [Its job] is to tell our immune system to build those antibodies. … We have a smarter immune system ready to be exposed.”
She adds that everyone will be exposed to COVID-19 (if they haven’t been already), and there’s no reason to be concerned about long-term side effects because the mRNA quickly leaves your body. “What you have [left] is your antibodies — just with a little bit more knowledge.”
Kids get a smaller dose of the vaccine than adults because their immune systems are more robust, and they don’t require much of a viral exposure to build an antibody army, Williamson explains. “So it's not that they can't handle or that it's unsafe to do with a bigger dose, it's just that they don't need it.”
A smaller dose also means kids are less likely to get fevers or aches, she adds.
What about parents who might say, “Yes I’ve heard all this, but I’ll wait because my kid probably won’t get seriously ill if they get COVID?”
Williamson responds, “The part that the parents really need to realize is that your child might be one of the lucky ones who are asymptomatic. But as a pediatrician, I've seen so many kids who have had serious disease, and there are many children who have died from the COVID virus. It is time to protect them. And I tell parents — it's just not worth the risk.”
As for kids up to age 4, vaccines aren’t available because the trials aren’t finished yet.
“A testament to the safety of vaccines is that nothing is released until we have enough studies, we have enough data for those studies. And it goes through all the proper channels to make sure that the best of the scientists we have approve those studies and agree that it is safe. So once it goes through that process, and we're hoping sometime next week that we will get that approval for 5 to 11, then that happens.”