While the vaccine is not ready yet for kids, there is still plenty of information parents need to know right now. From babies to teens, we are answering your questions about the COVID-19 vaccine and our kids.
In our Ask 2 Live “Kids and Vaccine” event, we invited viewers to join in our discussion with Dr. Stanley Spinner, Chief Medical Officer at Texas Children’s Pediatrics and Texas Children’s Urgent Care, and Dr. Michael Chang, a pediatric infectious disease specialist with UTHealth and UT Physicians. Here are a few of the questions and answers from our informative talk.
1. Are there any children who should NOT get the vaccine?
“It’s going to be the same restrictions that we see in our adult population,” Dr. Spinner said. “Someone who has had a reaction to the components of the vaccine before or someone who is actively sick at the time. That is a reason to delay the vaccine.”
Dr. Spinner explains those who have underlying conditions are at the highest risk for getting really sick from the infection.
“The primary concern would be a severe allergy to any components to the vaccine.” Dr. Chang said.
2. I’m nervous at the thought of getting my child vaccinated. What can you tell reluctant parents like me to reassure them?
“I’m a father as well. (I) have two kids. I do understand some reluctance,” Dr. Chang said. “There are two things to keep in mind. mRNA vaccines have been investigated for over a decade. In all of those studies in science that has been ongoing for years, both of these delivery systems have been safe in the recipients.”
Dr. Chang says at least down to 18 years of age, we have very few adverse reactions. He does add that, in very young children, there is not a lot of data. But when you look at what we do know, there’s no reason to expect there would be an adverse reaction in small children in relation to the COVID-19 vaccine.
“I am very eager to be able to get my grandchildren vaccinated at some point,” Dr. Spinner said. “When it comes to safety, children are not the same as adults. They are not just small adults.”
Bottom line, says Dr. Spinner, while the cases are very rare, children can still be impacted negatively by the COVID-19 virus.
“They can get very sick,” Dr. Spinner said. “Here at Texas Children’s Hospital, we have children in the ICU every day with COVID - we see complications from it. We are comfortable and confident in the safety of the vaccine as it is now, and we will be certain when it is released to the kids (that) we will have the same safety information for it.”
Dr. Chang added that yes, they are seeing (few) very ill patients with COVID-19, but if you are comparing the risk of side effects from the virus to potential side effects from the vaccine, the risk outweighs the benefits.
3. How young will the vaccine go? Will babies be able to get the vaccine?
Both doctors agreed it is too early to answer this question. But, they pointed out something interesting about why we have to wait for kids to even get the vaccine. When the vaccine is approved for children, it will most likely be recommended that patients wait two weeks before and then two weeks after to get any additional vaccines. But, that’s not because they are worried something bad is going to happen.
“The two-week window between routine vaccinations and COVID vaccines is not because of data showing it is unsafe,” Dr. Chang explains. “It’s just that because we don’t have data on how it will interact - we are recommending that two-week window. The medical community (is) trying to be extremely cautious to avoid any potential interactions.”
Dr. Chang says there is no reason to believe the vaccine will interact with other vaccines.
4. Once adults in the family have been vaccinated, even if the kids are still waiting, can we go ahead and get together? Especially since kids are not typically getting sick from the virus?
“We know these two vaccines are about 94% effective. But what we don’t know is how effective they are at preventing infection. We can be infected, but have been asymptomatic, but still be able to spread the infection. We don’t know if being vaccinated will still stop us from spreading the virus to others,” Dr. Spinner said.
Dr. Spinner also points out that some people are getting COVID twice.
“We don’t have that certainty to say - we have been vaccinated, we can be around our family and feel comfortable that we can’t get the virus again.”
He recommends people still keep within their family units like they were before the vaccine, to still maintain the same level of caution.
Bottom line, says Dr. Chang: “We just don’t know if it prevents transmission.”
He went on to say that, for now, he is recommending people stick with the same routine of physical distancing and mask-wearing.
5. Sign-up for some summer camps is already starting. Should I wait to sign up my kids for summer camp until they can get a vaccine?
“No, don’t wait with respect to summer camp,” Dr. Chang says. “If we have good measures in place like physical distancing, masks, and do activities outside - we can minimize transmission of the infection in those ways. And if our community rates are low by the time summer starts, I don’t think vaccinations should be a prerequisite before going to summer camp.”
Dr. Spinner says parents should do their homework to make sure the camps are thinking about health safety.
“If you are going to think about sending your child to a camp, think about the regulations they will have in place. What are their plans if someone does get sick? How vigilant will the camps be?” Dr. Spinner said.
6. Do we know the frequency of getting vaccinated? (kids and adults) Will it be two shots annually?
“We are not even sure how long the immunity from vaccination will last - very difficult to answer that case just yet,” Dr. Chang said. “There is some discussion about the variants that are circulating. There is some concern these variants can escape the immunity that is provided by the vaccines, but it’s too early to make that decision.”
Dr. Chang says the interesting thing is the vaccine technology being used. The vaccines can be adapted very quickly to account for new variants. He says, “If we need a new vaccine for a new variant of COVID, developers will be able to respond quickly with modifications to the vaccine.”
7. When vaccines for kids are available, do you expect we will be able to go to our pediatricians to get it? Or do you expect it will be large registration events with larger providers like we have for adults now?
“It will depend on what types of the vaccine will be developed,” Dr. Spinner says. “Right now, the reason it’s being distributed like this is because of the storage requirements.”
He explains because the current vaccines need to be stored at a certain temperature, the only way to properly distribute them is to have large events where the right equipment to do that is available. If a childhood COVID vaccine does not need to be stored in a cold environment, it could be something given in the doctor’s office - like other vaccines are given now.
“I look forward to the fact that we should be able to bring some of these vaccines to the community practice level,” Dr. Spinner adds.
What the doctors want families to know
Both doctors were given a chance to give a message to the families in our area. In part, here is what they had to say.
“As a pediatrician, I can’t stress the importance our goal is to protect our pediatric population. If we protect kids we protect adults,” Dr. Spinner said. “We set examples for our children every day, so we need to practice all of the right things as parents so our kids emulate those same behaviors. So when they are with others, they do what they do to protect themselves. We are all in this together. "
“As a pediatric specialist, I just want what is best for kids,” Dr. Chang said. “I do highly recommend continuing all safety measures and be on the lookout for all opportunities to vaccinate our children to COVID-19.”
“We are learning something new about this every day. So I don’t want parents to be frustrated with the fact that advice and guidance change over time. We are learning something new about COVID -19 on a daily if not hourly basis. I ask parents to be patient with the pediatric community and providers. As we learn we will try to make the best decisions we can for the children. "
“It’s not because we are changing our mind, it’s because we are getting new evidence and we are trying to make the best decisions that we can.”
Here is more information on the COVID vaccine and kids, including other questions from parents and answers from experts.
Do you have a question about the COVID-19 vaccine?
At KPRC2, we are always working to get answers to the questions you have regarding COVID-19 and the vaccine. You can submit your questions here.