Children Deserve Every Protection COVID-19 Vaccine Provides

Eve Meltzer-Krief, MD, FAAP

Eve Meltzer-Krief, MD, FAAP

Dr. Eve Meltzer-Krief MD, FAAP is a pediatrician in Huntington.  Dr. Meltzer-Krief is the NYS AAP-Chapter 2 Treasurer and Co-Chair of the NYS AAP-Chapter 2 Legislative Advocacy Committee.  This op-ed was published in Huntington Now on November 9, 2021.

Last week, I was COVID testing a young child outside my office when a woman driving by shouted at my patient’s mother: “You might want to reconsider getting your child tested – 99.99 percent of children survive COVID!”  As shocking as that unsolicited drive-by intrusion was, it was what she said that has troubled me throughout the pandemic — the statistic I have heard used over and over again to somehow suggest that children don’t deserve to be safely protected from a potentially very serious disease.

While that survival rate is indeed correct, it also means that .01% of children who contract COVID will die.  Of the 6.4 million children who have been infected with COVID in the U.S., that amounts to the 691 pediatric deaths that have been reported (1).  I can assure you that the parents of those that died don’t care about any statistic.

While the hundreds of children who have died from COVID cannot compare in number to the hundreds of thousands of deaths in adults, each one violates the central societal belief that children are not supposed to die.  As a community, we continually implement measures to avoid unnecessary harm and death to children wherever we can, for nothing is more tragic than the death of a child that was preventable.  We require car seats for babies, gates around pools, life jackets on boats, and seat belts in cars.

Vaccination programs are a big part of how public health measures prevent disease, hospitalization and death in children.  All vaccines, including the COVID vaccine for children, undergo a rigorous testing process and are never approved for use unless the benefits definitively outweigh any potential or theoretical risk.  Period.

This vaccine was approved because the risk of your child contracting severe illness from COVID is far greater than the risk of any potential side effects from the vaccine.  To date, there are no serious side effects at all from the COVID vaccine for 5-11 years old.  The trial included 4,600 participants (3,100 vaccine, 1,538 placebo).  Most commonly, children experience only mild tenderness, fatigue or achiness after vaccination (1).

Although most children do fare well if they contract COVID, it is not a benign disease.  Specifically in the 5-11 year old age group there have been 146 deaths.  But it’s not just about mortality.  8,300 children in that age group have been hospitalized (1).  Almost 1/3 of those children require intensive care treatment and 30% of hospitalized children have no underlying medical condition (2).  When there is an underlying condition, it’s most often obesity or asthma which are common in children.

More concerning, pediatric hospitalizations are rising. vThe more transmissible delta strain led to a five-fold increase in hospital admissions among children just over the course of last summer (3).  Children between the ages of 6-11 have had the highest incidence of cases of Multi System Inflammatory Syndrome of Children (MIS-C).  Seen several weeks after initial infection, MIS-C can affect multiple organs and has occurred in over 5,000 children, leading to 48 deaths (4).  Children can also experience long COVID.  One in 7 children who had the disease have respiratory or neurological symptoms up to 15 weeks after infection (5-6).  Pediatricians remain concerned about what may still be unknown regarding the long term physical health of infected children.

It’s natural for parents to have questions about the COVID vaccine for children, particularly given the amount of misinformation they may be encountering.  Pediatricians are here to explain how lucky we are to live during such a scientifically advanced time that a vaccine based on decades of research was able to be created so quickly, and why that speed should not be viewed with skepticism but with relief.  Pediatricians can explain that there is no connection between COVID vaccination and infertility and that in fact the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists strongly recommends all pregnant women or those planning to get pregnant get vaccinated against COVID (7).  Pediatricians can explain how vaccines work and how the COVID vaccine for children employs the same concept as any other vaccine in giving the body a “sneak peek” at a potentially dangerous virus so it can be prepared to fight it.

Pediatricians can explain that there has never been a vaccine that had to be pulled from the market years or decades after licensure because of unforeseen effects.  Pediatricians can explain that never in the history of vaccination has there been an immunization more closely monitored and scrutinized than this one.  While some parents are planning on watching and waiting, pediatricians caution against this.  As colder temperatures are now upon us, families will be gathering more indoors and will be traveling during the holiday season.  With a much more transmissible virus circulating and higher COVID positivity rates than this time last year, pediatricians hope to protect children before a potential new wave of illness.

Children deserve the safe and effective protection that the COVID vaccine provides against symptomatic infection, hospitalization and death.  The COVID vaccine is recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics representing the 67,000 pediatricians across the country whose job it is to safeguard the health of children.

Pediatricians welcome parents’ questions and are eager to help them feel more secure in their decision to vaccinate.  No child should succumb to a disease that could have been safely prevented with a vaccine.