‘All eligible children’ should get COVID-19 vax

Nov. 13 — The Pennsylvania physician general and two pediatricians took to Facebook Live Friday to share information about the safety and effectiveness of the new COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 5 to 11, a week after it received emergency approval.

dr. Denise Johnson, Department of Health general practitioner, led Vax Facts: Pediatric Vaccine Facts. She was accompanied by Dr. Trude Haecker, president of the Pennsylvania Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, and Dr. Swathi Gowtham, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Geisinger.

Nearly 19,000 children ages 5 to 11 in Pennsylvania and 900,000 across the country received the first dose of Pfizer’s two-dose vaccine early this week. Parental consent is required. The dose used is one third of that for adults. It is FDA-approved, CDC-approved, and recommended by pediatricians.

At the outset, Johnson outlined that 6 million children across the country have tested positive for COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic in March 2020. Of those, 67,000 were hospitalized. There have been 59,743 cases of school-age children in Pennsylvania as of Aug. 16, including 1,324 in Montour, Northumberland, Snyder and Union counties.

Children are at a lower risk of serious illness and death from COVID-19, Gowtham said, but too often pediatric cases are dismissed in discussions about health risks of the infectious disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

The possible long-term effects for children sick with the disease remain unknown, Gowtham said. Children’s multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MIS-C), a rare syndrome caused by COVID-19 that inflames the heart, lungs, brain and more, was found to be more common in children ages 5 to 11, she said.

“All eligible children ages 5 and older should receive the vaccine,” Gowtham said, adding that her recommendation also applies to children with immune system problems. The only cases in which she would advise against it, she said, would be for children with known allergic reactions to components of the vaccine.

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Haecker said children are at risk of unknowingly spreading COVID-19 to adults in their families and social circles. In the pediatric vaccine pilot study, Haecker said nearly every child who tested positive for the disease had not been vaccinated. The vaccine protects their physical health and mental well-being by keeping them in school and in activities such as athletics and clubs.

“We really want kids to go to school, be with their friends and not fall behind,” Haecker said.

Gowtham explained that it takes weeks for natural immunity to build when a virus is introduced into the human body. In that time, it can do a lot of damage. The Pfizer vaccine, as well as Moderna’s, use mRNA technology that trains the immune system to develop an immune response to the SARS-CoV-2 virus without introducing the actual virus into the body. The vaccine is injected into muscle cells and will not travel further, she said. According to Gowtham, it doesn’t alter your DNA or cause infertility.

Gowtham said the mRNA is destroyed in the muscle cell within 48 hours. It has been shown to be 90% effective in ongoing studies, she said.

“The vaccines train your body to fight against that virus or bacteria before your body sees it,” Gowtham said.

Serious side effects from vaccines such as myocarditis were seen primarily in older teenage boys, Gowtham said, and at a rate of about 1 in 10,000. She expects fewer cases of heart inflammation in children ages 5 to 11 because the vaccine dose is smaller than that for teens, 10 micrograms compared to 30 micrograms.

The threat of MIS-C, which is caused by COVID-19, far outweighs any side effects of vaccines, Gowtham said.

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