A COVID vaccine for kids is coming. Will parents let them take it?

Written by on October 29, 2021

(NEW YORK) — Michael and Jennifer Spaetti of Salisbury, North Carolina, were both vaccinated last spring as soon as shots became available. But when it comes to their 6-year-old grandson who lives with them, they aren’t so sure.

As his primary caregiver, they wonder about long-term side effects. He also hates getting shots, guaranteeing that an extra trip to the pediatrician would be tough emotionally.

“I’m not sure. It just seems like it came out so fast,” said Jennifer Spaetti. “And we’re talking about a child. I feel like it’s different for me, but I just I’m not sure. I don’t think I know enough about it.”

Denise, a mother of two from Columbia, South Carolina, expressed similar concerns. Asked to withhold her last name for privacy reasons, Denise jokes she would feel more comfortable seeing the neighborhood kids get their shots fist, just in case there is some rare side effect that researchers missed.

And as a Black mother, Denise said she worries not enough African American children were represented in the clinical trials.

“My husband is gung-ho,” she said. “And I’m definitely not opposed to it. But I do just want to wait and see … I want to make the best decision as a parent.”

With the first pediatric vaccine for COVID-19 expected to roll out as early as Nov. 3, only 27% of parents with kids ages 5-11 say they will vaccinate them “right away,” according to the latest poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Another 33% of parents with the elementary-aged kids say they want to “wait and see” how it works in others before getting their child vaccinated. And at least two thirds of those parents say they are concerned about potential long-term and serious side effects.

This hesitancy is worrying many health officials, who contend widespread vaccinations in schools will be critical to vaccinate kids ahead of the cold weather to prevent another surge in cases.

They also counter that parents should be much more worried about the virus than the vaccine. Of the 1.9 million kids ages 5-11 who contracted the virus, 8,300 wound up hospitalized. One third of those children hospitalized had no underlying health conditions.

Another concern pediatricians have is that children exposed to the virus are at risk of developing “long-haul” symptoms. While very rare for children, the symptoms such as brain fog, chest pain and debilitating fatigue persist for weeks after exposure.

None of the 2,200 kids who received the Pfizer-BioNTech pediatric vaccine last June in the clinical trials has experienced serious side effects, including the myocarditis that’s been seen in a small group of older teen and adult males. Experts say any side effects to a vaccine typically occur within two months of getting a shot.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, along with independent vaccine and health experts, also have found no evidence that the vaccine could impact a person’s fertility and is safe for pregnant and breastfeeding moms.

The CDC also warns that people shouldn’t count on prior exposure to the virus. In a study released Friday, the CDC found adults with “natural” immunity through infection were more than five times more likely to develop COVID-19 compared to people who were fully vaccinated.

Still, even vaccine experts say it can be nerve-wracking to make a decision for millions of children based on a study involving only a few thousand kids.

The trial also wasn’t as diverse as some experts would like. Of the children participating in the clinical trials, the vast majority of participants – 78% — were white. Six percent were Black, while 21% were Hispanic and 6% were Asian.

Dr. Paul Offit, an adviser to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, who voted in favor of authorizing the vaccine at a meeting this week, said he still supports the rollout because he believed the benefits outweigh the risks.

The FDA was expected to authorize the pediatric vaccine as early as Friday, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention expected to sign off next week.

“The question is when do you know enough? And I think we certainly know that there are many children between five and 11 years of age who are susceptible to this disease who could very well be sick and are hospitalized or die from it,” said Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center and an attending physician in the Division of Infectious Diseases at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

For its part, the White House is planning to launch a social media campaign to urge parents to vaccinate their kids. To increase trust, federal officials also have pushed to make the vaccine for kids – which is a third of the dosage used in adults and comes in a special orange-capped vial — widely available in pediatrician offices and pharmacies, rather than relying on mass vaccination sites.

Still, many parents don’t want to be rushed.

Paul Ekeoha, a father of four kids in Odessa, Texas, says he’s not convinced yet that his kids need it because they seem healthy now and strong. At the same time, he’s not opposed to vaccines for other people and said he is open to changing his mind.

“If my hands are tied, and I don’t have options, I wouldn’t have any objection,” Ekeoha said.

Other parents said they would be keeping a close eye on how the rollout goes for pediatric vaccines.

“Probably what I’ll do is just wait and see how it goes,” said Jennifer Spaetti.

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