Pediatricians: We need to bust these myths about kids and COVID vaccines

No, there is no evidence that COVID-19 vaccines can affect a teenage girl’s fertility.

And yes, your child can actually get very sick from COVID.

This is the kind of misinformation that a group of pediatricians in West Michigan say is struggling to expel parents and children, pending the expected FDA approval of the Pfizer vaccine for those 12 and older. (Reports say data from studies involving children as young as five could come out by the end of the summer.)

“This is a population that is very important when it comes to trying to get past the pandemic and to prevent more new variants from emerging,” said Dr. Rosemary Olivero, pediatric infectious disease physician at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital, and spoke at a Spectrum Health press conference Tuesday.

“And I am personally delighted, I am so glad we have this access [to the COVID vaccine for children.] But I think we really have a lot of work to do in educating the public. “

The proof so far

Dr. Liam Sullivan, infectious diseases physician at Spectrum Health, pointed out what he called “impressive” and “very, very encouraging data” from Pfizer’s phase 3 study, which included more than 2,200 adolescents ages 12 to 15.

The results, first announced by Pfizer in late March, found 18 cases of COVID in the placebo group, versus zero cases in the vaccinated group. Those who received the vaccine also showed a robust immune response a month after they received their second dose, the company said, similar to older participants in a previous trial.

And the shots were “well-tolerated, with side effects generally consistent with those seen in participants ages 16 to 25.”

Although this adolescent trial involved far fewer participants than previous large COVID studies, Dr. Olivero that the results are still valid.

“Keep in mind that that study really, again, looked at safety and efficacy,” she said. “But we already had efficacy and safety data from 30,000 adults enrolled in the previous trial. So it changes the numbers a little bit, and what needed to be recruited for that younger audience. But because of the numbers they were able to achieve in that study, there were enough numbers to then produce the safety and efficacy results that they published. So yes, it was big enough to reliably report what they’ve been up to for the past month. “

Pfizer filed those results with the FDA in April, seeking authorization for emergency use. The FDA is widely expected to grant the EUA, with some reports saying that as early as next week.

In the meantime, more ‘seriously ill’ children were hospitalized for COVID this spring

But before doctors can convince parents that the vaccine is safe for their children, they must first convince them that it is even necessary. Many still feel like kids can’t get that sick from COVID, Olivero said.

“We have seen an increase in pediatric hospital admissions in the state of Michigan, with some children as young as infants, even older teens, becoming seriously ill with COVID-19. The numbers aren’t huge, but we know that the chances of children getting sick are unbelievably high. “

According to state data, 50 pediatric patients had been hospitalized for COVID as of Tuesday. Michigan hit a record in April, with 70 children admitted.

Then there’s MIS-C, or multi-system inflammation syndrome, a rare but serious complication that children can have after the initial COVID infection has passed.

“It’s nothing to scoff at,” said Dr. Sullivan. “To be honest, we now see a little bit in adults. And they are very, very sick people. And it is a very real syndrome.

“And I think talking to parents about the potential risk of MIS-C after COVID-19 infection… is another way to motivate them to get their children vaccinated. Because I don’t think any parent wants their child in the hospital to go through something like this. “

Michigan has reported 106 confirmed cases of MIS-C to the CDC, as of April 29, with ages ranging from less than a year to 20 years. Almost 70% of all cases were admitted to the ICU. The state does not report an exact number of MIS-C deaths, only that there have been “5 or less.”

A widespread and mistaken belief about effects on fertility

Dr. Olivero says there is one major concern she hears from teenage patients who are “nervous about getting vaccinated” about COVID: the myth that the vaccine could harm their fertility later in life.

“We hear from the community that these myths really revolve around the mRNA vaccines that may affect fertility,” she said. And I just want to say that those myths have been debunked. They are not true. And unfortunately it is harming our ability to fight the pandemic with the vaccine. “

According to the Henry Ford Health System, the myth began with a German epidemiologist who hypothesized that the vaccine could ’cause the body of women to reject a protein associated with the placenta’, rendering women infertile.

He thought this because the genetic code of the placental protein, called syncytin-1, bears a hint of similarity to the genetic code of the spike protein in COVID-19. If the vaccines caused our bodies to make antibodies to protect us against COVID-19, he thought, they could also make antibodies to shed the placenta.

“However, this was a theoretical risk that has been completely refuted in the clinical studies and continues to be refuted in real time as more women of childbearing age are fully vaccinated.

“It is imprecise to say that the COVID-19 spike protein and this placental protein share a similar genetic code,” said D’Angela Pitts, MD, specialist in maternal fetal medicine at Henry Ford Health System. “The proteins are not comparable enough to prevent the placenta from attaching to an embryo.” ”

Dr. Pitts also pointed out the many women, including her own patients, who became pregnant after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine.

“We’ve been giving the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to literally millions of vaccine recipients for about five months,” said Dr. Olivero. “And there is no impact on fertility, neither by natural COVID-19 infection, nor by the mRNA vaccine. So we’re really not concerned that getting a vaccine as a teenager would have any impact on your fertility.

“And if you can survive COVID-19, it will certainly affect your ability to start a family in the future. So I think this is a really good idea … “

Big picture: Vaccinating children could reduce COVID to something more like the flu

Ultimately, once it gets full FDA approval, Sullivan and Olivero say they see COVID-19 vaccines become a standard school requirement just like other childhood immunizations.

Because how many children eventually receive a COVID vaccine in the coming weeks and months will have huge implications for whether we can successfully control the virus, said Dr. Liam Sullivan, infectious diseases physician at Spectrum Health. Just look at the seasonal flu, he said.

“One of the leading causes of flu epidemics every year is children,” he said. “They go to school together all day … And then they go into community, they see their parents, grandparents, etc. And that’s one of the biggest causes of flu epidemics every year. So it is absolutely essential that we get as many children vaccinated as possible to achieve herd immunity. “

Even if the herd’s immunity turns out to be out of reach, as a growing number of experts believe it is, widespread childhood vaccinations will play a critical role in preventing the virus from “causing serious illness in large parts of our population. “, Dr. Olivero said.

“So I wouldn’t think about a 15-year-old getting vaccinated and getting through the next year. I would see it as: this is a lifelong phenomenon that we will have to deal with. ”

COVID could be much more like the seasonal flu, Olivero said: a disease that has not been completely eradicated but is managed with annual vaccinations that save lives and keep the health system from overwhelming.

“And the way we’re going to get there is by vaccinating and causing milder diseases across the board,” she said.

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