Vaccination in children could start this week 0:44
(CNN) – The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has extended the authorization of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to children 12-15 years of age, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are expected to Disease Prevention (CDC) recommend expanding eligibility as early as this Wednesday.
Parents will decide whether to vaccinate their children against this deadly pandemic. What are the questions that should be asked and how should they make this decision?
We consulted CNN Medical Analyst Dr. Leana Wen for advice and answers to some of the most common questions parents ask about the COVID-19 vaccine. Wen is an emergency physician and visiting professor of health policy and management at the Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington University. She is also the author of the forthcoming book “Lifelines: A Doctor’s Journey in the Fight for Public Health.”
CNN: For parents who have children 12 and older, how do you think they should approach the decision about whether their children should be vaccinated?
Dr. Leana Wen: The first thing I would suggest is talking to your child. Most likely, he or she has a strong opinion. Many teens are really eager to resume their pre-pandemic life and get back to pajama parties and indoor birthdays. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, those who are fully vaccinated can see others who are as well without masks or distancing, and many 12-year-olds and teens are very excited to be reunited with their friends.
CNN: What else can teens expect once they are fully vaccinated?
Wen: As more teens get vaccinated, there may be changes in the rules of camp, youth sports, and school. Mask requirements may be waived if everyone at camp or on a sports team is vaccinated, for example.
Vaccination also makes everything safer for the family. Many families are trying to solve the problem of being partially vaccinated, if the parents are protected by vaccination but the children are not. The fact that children are also protected means that they are safer as a whole, and can choose to do more activities together, including traveling and seeing other families vaccinated indoors, without masks or distancing.
CNN: Does the vaccine protect adolescents as well as adults?
Wen: According to the data obtained so far, yes. In a study carried out with more than 2,200 young people between the ages of 12 and 15, 18 became ill from covid-19. All were in the placebo group and none were in the group that received the vaccine, which means that there appears to be 100% efficacy in preventing coronavirus in the study.
Based on what we have recorded in adults, there will be some of what we call “breakthrough infections,” that is, people who are fully vaccinated but still contract COVID-19. But it will be a very small number. Vaccination will be very good at protecting the adolescent from getting sick and seriously ill. And, which is very important, it will also reduce the probability of contagion of the coronavirus to other people.
How much do vaccines protect against covid-19? 3:14
CNN: What about the side effects? Is there a risk of blood clots?
Wen: The same side effects that are seen in adults are also seen in adolescents, namely arm pain, fatigue, fever and muscle aches that can appear in the first 24 to 48 hours. They are not long-lasting side effects and are proof that the vaccine is working to produce immunity.
The rare blood clotting disorder was associated with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which uses adenovirus vector technology. It has not been registered with the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, which use a different type of technology called messenger RNA technology. More than 120 million people have received messenger RNA vaccines in the United States, without it being associated with a blood clotting disorder.
CNN: I have heard some parents say that they do not want to vaccinate their teenage children, because they do not usually get as sick as adults. Why is it important for children to get vaccinated?
Wen: It is true that minors, in general, do not suffer as serious consequences from the coronavirus as adults. However, children do contract COVID-19 and, tragically, some become very ill and hundreds of them have died in the United States. Teens also spread the coronavirus. In some states, youth sports have been the main drivers of the infection. Therefore, vaccination is important both to protect children and to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Ultimately, it is the vaccination of the younger and older populations that will lead us to curb transmission.
CNN: Some parents are concerned about the long-term effects of the vaccine, saying that the vaccine is new and therefore we cannot know the lasting consequences. Can you talk about this, and also about fertility concerns?
Wen: I think it is important that we recognize that these vaccines are relatively new, so we cannot assure you that they will not have long-term effects. However, we can say, based on past experience with many other vaccines, that adverse effects are recorded almost exclusively in the first 6 weeks after vaccination.
There is no physiological or scientific reason to believe that vaccines cause long-term consequences many years later. It is not possible to completely refute something that has not happened. You are comparing the hypothetical risk of something that is unlikely with the real risk of something: that of a serious illness from COVID-19.
As for fertility, this is an unfortunate rumor circulated by anti-vaccine activists. This has no scientific basis. There are women who have become pregnant during vaccine trials and after receiving it. There is no increased risk of abortion among pregnant women who have received the covid-19 vaccines. And there is no reason to believe that there are any long-term reproductive effects from vaccines.
CNN: What about younger children, those under 12 can also be vaccinated?
Wen: At the moment, no. Trials with younger children are underway, including trials with babies as young as 6 months.
These trials will take months to complete as they also involve testing different dosages and of course ensuring safety and efficacy. I am looking forward to these trials as I have a 1 year old and an almost 4 year old, and I would love to get them vaccinated one day too.
CNN: Where can parents go to get the covid-19 vaccine for their teenage children?
Wen: The CDC advisory committee is meeting this Wednesday and is expected to agree to the FDA clearance, which means the vaccine could be given to teens 12 and older later this week. Many centers that already distribute the Pfizer vaccine to those over 16 years of age will open the possibility of it being applied to those over 12 years of age. You can call the nearest pharmacy, doctor’s office or mass vaccination center to make sure they will offer the vaccine for this age group.
CNN: What if the parents are still not convinced? Where can they go for information?
Wen: All parents want the best for our children. It is natural and certainly understandable that we want more information.
CDC will have more information on the 12-15 age range soon, and I encourage you to look up the answers from reputable sources like them. Parents also trust our pediatricians a lot, and I also invite you to talk with them. Your pediatrician may also be able to offer you the vaccine in his or her office, so that’s something else to ask about.
Some parents are very eager, and so are their children, to get their teens vaccinated, but others want to wait a bit. That is good too. All questions need to be answered and concerns addressed.