Noozhawk recently reported that children 5 to 11 years old have a lower vaccination rate for COVID-19 than other age groups in Santa Barbara County and throughout the nation.
Vaccines were approved for this age group in November and, as of February, the county reports that 23% of the 5-to-11 age group are fully vaccinated and another 9% are partially vaccinated with one dose received. Overall, 71.2% of eligible county residents are fully vaccinated for COVID-19.
Many Noozhawk readers have sent in questions about COVID-19 over the past two years, and Dr. Dan Brennan, a Santa Barbara pediatrician who writes a regular Noozhawk column, recently answered some of the commonly asked ones about COVID-19 in children, vaccinations and school safety measures.
His responses are below.
Question: Children are at lower risk of severe illness from COVID-19, so why is vaccination recommended? Do you recommend vaccination for your patients?
Dan Brennan: Yes! I strongly encourage all of my eligible patients to get their COVID-19 vaccine doses and to stay up to date with their boosters.
We have three boys. Our two oldest are fully vaccinated and boosted and our youngest is taking part in the Moderna KidCOVE study.
Vaccination has been shown to be very effective in preventing hospitalizations, reducing transmission, and decreasing “Long COVID” and MIS-C (multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children) in pediatric-aged patients.
Unlike earlier variants, children are much more susceptible to infection with Omicron. We have seen record numbers of pediatric hospitalizations with this surge, especially in the age groups not yet eligible to be vaccinated.
If you ask any parent who has been at the bedside of their child in the hospital, it is very traumatic for the child and their family members.
Children can also develop “Long COVID,” causing prolonged symptoms such as fatigue, brain fog and shortness of breath.
I am caring for several unvaccinated patients with “Long COVID,” and it breaks my heart to see them unable to focus at school or lose the stamina/endurance needed to participate in their extracurricular sports.
Multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C) is a condition in which different body parts can become inflamed, including the heart, lungs, kidneys, brain, skin, eyes or gastrointestinal organs. Vaccination has been shown to significantly reduce the incidence of MIS-C.
Q: Do children get and spread the coronavirus as easily as adults do?
DB: Yes. Unfortunately, with Omicron, children are much more susceptible to being infected and infecting others. It is not uncommon to have a child contract COVID-19 outside of the home and then bring it into the household and infect parents, grandparents and other siblings.
While not 100%, vaccines are very effective in reducing the rates of infection and transmissibility to others.
Q: What are the typical side effects of COVID-19 vaccination in children? Does it differ by age?
DB: The COVID-19 vaccine is very well tolerated in children. The most common side effects are sore arm, headache and fatigue.
Q: Can children safely get vaccinated for COVID-19 and the flu at the same time?
DB: Yes, being vaccinated for COVID-19 and influenza at the same time has been well studied and is safe and effective.
Q: Countywide vaccination rates show that families seem more willing to vaccinate older children (12 to 17) than younger children (5 to 11). Why do you think that is?
DB: Parents always want to do what they feel is best for their children. Most parents who identify as hesitant often have excellent questions about vaccine safety and want to discuss the need to vaccinate. Once these questions are addressed, I find that the majority of parents choose to vaccinate.
One challenge that we have as pediatricians is to keep up with a steady stream of misinformation. As we can separate fact from fiction, parents are generally excited to offer strong vaccine protection to their children.
Q: Children in the 5-11 age group are eligible for a smaller, pediatric dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, while children 12 and older are eligible for the same size dose as adults. As a pediatrician, what have you recommended for patients who are 11 and turning 12 soon, or have turned 12 between doses?
DB: This is a straightforward question for me. I would not delay vaccination. If you are 11, I would recommend starting with the 11-year-old dose.
If you turn 12 when it is time for the second dose, then you will receive the 12-year-old dose. Similarly, if you turn 12 when it is time for a booster dose, then you will receive the larger 12-year-old dose.
Q: What are some common questions and concerns you hear from patients and families about pediatric COVID-19 vaccines?
DB: My patient families always have great questions. Most of my parents want to be reassured that the vaccines are necessary and safe. Some want to talk through what side effects to expect. Less common questions have to do with dispelling myths that they have heard from friends, family or social media.
Q: Can teenagers or other children get vaccinated for COVID-19 without a parent or guardian’s consent?
DB: In California, anyone under the age of 18 must have consent from a parent or guardian before they can receive a vaccine. Some states do allow teens to make some of their own medical choices.
Q: Where can parents and guardians go with questions about COVID-19 vaccines for children?
DB: When possible, I would reach out directly to your pediatrician. I do several vaccine consults each week, and I find these to be some of the most rewarding visits for both myself and my patients. Please don’t feel bad about asking your doctor to set up a telemedicine visit to go over your questions.
Other trusted sources include the American Academy of Pediatrics website, www.HealthyChildren.org, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website, https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/recommendations/children-teens.html, and our Santa Barbara County Public Health Department website, https://publichealthsbc.org/.
Q: How can children protect themselves from coronavirus infections at school, during extracurricular activities, and with family and friends?
DB: I am a strong advocate for using a layered approach.
If your child is eligible, start with a vaccine and/or booster.
Use a high-quality mask whenever possible. High filtration masks are now available for faces of all sizes. My boys go to school wearing M95i and M95c masks from Lutema. This U.S.-based company now has an M94c mask that fits faces as small as age 2.
If you are sick, stay home. If you are going to gather with people from outside of your family unit, ask if anyone is getting over any cold symptoms and consider doing a test the day of the event.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has a great approach to help keep youth athletes safe. This includes having athletes arrive to practice wearing a mask and then using a mask when in huddles or sitting together on a bench or in a dugout.
Schools and youth sports leagues that are able to provide real-time contact tracing and transparent communication with their students, families and athletes will be better able to provide a safer environment to study and compete. Be sure to keep up constant communication with your school and your coach.