Is the COVID-19 Vaccine Safe for Kids?
Your questions answered, with local pediatrician Dr. Elias Kass
Parenting isn’t easy, especially during a pandemic. You’re trusted to make daily decisions — around school, child care, socializing, travel — that impact the safety of your child and your family. It’s a difficult and sometimes lonely position to be in. Fortunately, there’s a choice you don’t have to make alone.
We talked with Dr. Elias Kass, a naturopathic doctor at Intergalactic Pediatrics in Seattle, about the decision to vaccinate your child against COVID-19 — specifically children ages 5–11. Our conversation comes as COVID-19 cases among children continue to rise across the United States. Research from the American Academy of Pediatrics finds that more than 1.1 million children were diagnosed with COVID-19 during the week of Jan. 20. That number is double what it was just two weeks before.
Thank you for joining us, Dr. Kass. We know parents have a lot of questions about the vaccine, especially when it comes to safety. Is the vaccine necessary for children?
We know kids can and do get sick from COVID-19. Early in the pandemic that risk was lower. But that’s completely changed with the new variants, and with restrictions easing for adults leading to more community transmission. I’ve seen more COVID-19 cases in my office in the last month than I have during the entire pandemic.
Unfortunately, some of these kids can get very sick and can have long-lasting effects from their illness. Some kids and teens have even died from COVID-19–1,266 kids in the U.S. as of Feb 10. It’s become one of the top 10 causes of death for kids age 5–11. And it’s hard to predict which kids may be at a higher risk of severe illness or death.
How can we trust that the vaccine works if infections are increasing?
The vaccine is giving your child’s body a head start in fighting the virus. That’s the goal of the vaccine.
We know the vaccine decreases the chances of your child having a severe illness or dying. We see less hospitalization among vaccinated children. We also see fewer cases of a condition called MIS-C among vaccinated children. MIS-C is a rare but very serious post-COVID-19 condition that affects different organs and systems in the body, like the heart, lungs, brain, and skin. Even kids who have a mild COVID-19 infection can later get MIS-C.
How can we trust the vaccine won’t impact a child’s development?
It’s not biologically realistic for the vaccine to cause long-term developmental problems in children. We have lots of studies on other vaccines to back this up. These vaccines are extensively tested to ensure they don’t cause problems in a child’s development.
But unlike vaccines, COVID-19 infection can cause problems for children for years after infection, like it does with adults.
The choice is not between the vaccine or nothing; the choice is between the vaccine or a potentially severe disease. The vaccine is the only way we can prevent much of the damage that COVID-19 can cause.
A 5-year-old can be a lot smaller than an 11-year-old. Will all kids in this age group have protection at that dosage?
The dosage is picked in the early phases of the vaccine trials. Health experts aim to find the dose that provides the best protection with the fewest side effects. For this reason, they chose 10 micrograms (which is 1/3 the dosage of the adult version) as the dose for kids ages 5–11.
The size of the child doesn’t matter for this vaccine. What matters is the maturity of the child’s immune system.
That’s different from medication. Medicine needs to get to every cell in the body, or a collection of cells in the body. Vaccines only need to get close to the part of the immune system that will take them back to “protection headquarters” in the body to get analyzed. Kids’ immune systems don’t need as much of the COVID-19 vaccine to accomplish that.
What side effects should I watch for after my child gets vaccinated?
The little kids ages 5–11 don’t seem to have many side effects after the vaccine. They may have a low fever or a headache, or some soreness in the arm they got the shot in. But for the most part, kids are fine to go right back to school and their day-to-day life. It’s really low drama!
How should you navigate conversations with your partner if you don’t agree about vaccinating your child?
This is really hard, and I know it’s something a lot of families are struggling with. Know that you’re not alone if this is something impacting your family.
But also remember, as a parent, your job is to protect your children. And vaccination is an incredibly powerful way to protect your children from COVID-19. Not vaccinating means you are acting to not protect your children. I encourage parents to voice any potential concerns with their health care provider.
How do you address rumors your kid might be hearing about the vaccine from other kids?
The same way you would address any misinformation: remind them it’s not true. The child can share their own experience getting the vaccine. They can also ask a trusted adult — like a parent or teacher — for help.
How can I comfort my child if they are nervous about getting the vaccine?
We like to do a lot of work and preparation. Show them your excitement but be honest. Let them know it may hurt for a very short period of time, but then they’re going to feel so proud that they got their vaccine and will be protecting themselves and the people they care about.
For the appointment itself, bring something they can be distracted with (like a favorite toy or something they can watch on your phone). Bring a treat they can enjoy while they’re waiting afterwards, like a favorite snack. Provide comfort. They may want to sit on your lap, and that’s OK. They can also ask their health care provider any questions on their mind.
The Meg Foundation for Pain has great resources for kids who are afraid of needles.
A lot of kids are actually surprised by how little it hurts, since it’s such a small amount! Again, it’s very low drama!
Stay tuned for the next blog post from our conversation with Dr. Kass, which will discuss boosters for kids, the outlook for vaccines for children ages 5–11, and breakthrough infections.
This blog is accurate as of the date of posting. Information changes rapidly, so check the state’s COVID-19 website for the most up-to-date info at coronavirus.wa.gov. You can also sign up to be notified whenever we post new articles.
The COVID-19 vaccine is now available to everyone 5 and older. For more information about the vaccine, visit CovidVaccineWA.org and use the vaccine locator tool to find an appointment. The COVID-19 vaccine is provided at no cost to you.
WA Notify can alert you if you’ve been near another user who tested positive for COVID-19. Add WA Notify to your phone today: WANotify.org
Answers to your questions or concerns about COVID-19 in Washington State may be found at our website. You can also contact the Department of Health call center at 1–800–525–0127 and press # from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday, and 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday — Sunday and observed state holidays. Language assistance is available.