Marin forums address pediatric COVID-19 vaccine

When it comes to COVID-19, young children are at greater risk of serious long-term side effects from infection than vaccination, according to experts from a Marin panel.

“Some kids get very sick from COVID-19,” said Dr. Theodore Ruel, chief of pediatric infectious diseases at the University of California, San Francisco, at the online forum for about 430 participants last week. “Worrying about the long-term effects of the vaccine is misplaced.”

Ruel and Dr. Tara Greenhow, pediatric infectious disease specialist at Kaiser Permanente Northern California, were panelists in a webinar hosted by the Marin County Office of Education to support Marin school parents with children ages 5 to 11.

The webinar, the first of three to be offered to Marin residents through the end of this week, was designed to help prepare families for the fact that a reduced-dose Pfizer vaccine has been approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration for emergency use for children 5 to 11 years old. on October 26.

Greenhow said the side effects data for children from the COVID-19 vaccine are similar to those for adolescents ages 12 to 15.

“The vaccine turned out to be safe, with some mild side effects after one or two days,” she said. The researchers also followed the adolescents for a month after they received the injection.

“There were no blood clots or serious allergic reactions,” Greenhow said. “About 0.4% had serious side effects, but none were considered vaccine-related and, importantly, no deaths were reported.”

Common adverse reactions in the 1,000 adolescent subjects were injection site pain, headache, fatigue, and fever. Greenhow said that at least one-fourth of the placebo group of 1,000, who received only a saline injection, also reported some fatigue and headaches.

The dose for the pediatric COVID-19 vaccine is 10 micrograms – one third of the adult dose of 30 micrograms.

“Under the careful guidance of public health, experience to date has shown that Marin families will embrace this opportunity,” said Mary Jane Burke, Marin superintendent of schools.

“Currently, 84% of eligible youth ages 12 and older are vaccinated in Marin County, without a mandate,” Burke said. “We hope for similar success in the next vaccine rollout.”

Panel member Dr. Matt Willis, the public health officer for Marin County, said that if the FDA approves the pediatric vaccine, the county would still have to wait for subsequent approvals from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Western States Scientific Review Group before distributing doses.

All three approvals are expected in early November. As of mid-December, more than 30 clinics have already been set up in Marin to offer the pediatric vaccine, Willis said. The goal is to have 15,000 of Marin’s 20,000 children in that age group receive their first dose within a month of approval.

“We’re standing still in the driveway,” Willis said. “We are ready to go.”

On Wednesday, the Marin County Office of Education will offer a second forum in Spanish from 6:00 PM to 7:00 PM. The scheduled panelists are Dr. Lisa Santora, Marin’s deputy public health officer; dr. Peter Simon of Marin Community Clinics; dr. Nicolas Mottola, a pediatrician at Kaiser Permanente; and Lucia Martel-Dow, a San Rafael Board of Education trustee and director of the Immigrant Legal Resource Center.

The panels and recordings are available at Both events are available in Spanish or English translations.

A third forum will take place on Thursdays from 5 to 6:30 pm in Rocky Graham Park at 850 Drake Ave. in Marine City. The panelists are Santora; dr. Elizabeth Talley, professor of pediatrics at Stanford Children’s Health; Alena Maunder, nurse manager for Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital and a trustee for the Sausalito Marin City School District; dr. Joy Lewis, a physician of internal medicine; and moderator Frank Omowale Satterwhite, president of Leadership Inc.

Masks are mandatory. A light dinner will be served from 4 p.m

During last week’s webinar, panelists detailed the benefits and risks of pediatric vaccines.

While most side effects are mild and short-lived, Greenhow said a “very rare” possible side effect called myocarditis — an inflammation of the heart muscle — was much more common after COVID-19 infections than after a vaccine dose. The condition causes chest pain, shortness of breath, and palpitations.

“A viral infection is the most common cause of myocarditis,” she said. “You are 16 times more likely to have myocarditis if you have a COVID-19 infection than if you are a patient without COVID-19.”

Ruel, Greenhow and Willis said they have young children of their own who are eligible for the pediatric vaccines, so they understand the concerns of the parents.

“Every family must weigh these risks and benefits when making the important decision whether or not to vaccinate their children,” Greenhow said. She urged families not to rely on false information, myths or deliberate misinformation on social media or other online channels.

Burke agreed.

“We fully understand that this is a very important step for families as we begin to vaccinate our younger children,” she said. “It places a responsibility on our schools and healthcare partners to ensure that parents are fully informed through events such as the pediatric vaccination panels held last week and this week.”

Ruel said the myriad benefits outweigh the risks.

“It’s hard for me when I treat kids in the ICUs who have COVID,” Ruel said. “It causes illness and death — it’s not benign to children.”

Willis said he expected the state to mandate the COVID-19 vaccine for children to attend school early next year. Marin was already leading the way with 84% of students ages 12 to 17 fully vaccinated — and that was without any vaccine mandate, he said.

“We’re just adding COVID-19 vaccination to the list of preventable diseases — such as measles, mumps, whooping cough and rubella — that a child needs to attend school,” he said.

Marin has the highest vaccination rate in the state, with 98% of eligible residents ages 12 and older having at least one dose and 92.7% fully vaccinated. Nearly 81% of all Marin residents are fully vaccinated.

Marin also has the lowest transmission rate of the virus community in the state, having entered the “moderate” yellow layer in the CDC’s color-coded tracking system last week. The yellow layer means the province has an average of 18 positive cases or fewer per day, calculated over a one-week period.

County virus and vaccine data is online at

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