Why to Get Your Young Kids Vaccinated Against COVID-19

EAfter the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention authorized shots for children as young as 6 months old, everyone in the U.S. is now eligible for a COVID-19 vaccination. They’re the last age demographic in the U.S. to become eligible to get vaccinated during the pandemic.

Despite the regulatory green light, many parents of young children are wondering whether it’s even necessary to get their kids vaccinated at this point in the pandemic, since infections have become so common and, in general, the virus causes relatively mild symptoms in most kids.

While studies that monitor children for longer durations of time continue, there is more evidence to support the benefits of vaccines for small children. These are common questions that parents have, as well as the consensus of experts on the current science.

HospitalizationsDeaths of children under five are rising

COVID-19 can cause milder diseases in children than it does in adults. Omicron raised the stakes.

Data from CDC’s COVID-19 Data Tracker show that during the peak of the initial Omicron wave, in January to February 2022, rates of hospitalization for infants and toddlers under 4 years old were more than four times that of the rates for children ages 5 to 17 years. Public health experts believe that part of this could be due to the fact the younger children weren’t eligible for vaccination, but the older ones were. Children of all ages who do not get COVID-19 may develop serious diseases that require hospitalization.

Based on real-world data, COVID-19 is safe for kids

Some parents are concerned that the mRNA vaccines haven’t been tested for long enough in children. Moderna’s and Pfizer BioNTech’s research, which were submitted to FDA for pediatric authorization, are thorough. Moderna’s study involves nearly 1,600 children from 6 months to 5 years old, while Pfizer-BioNTech’s includes more than 4,500 children from 6 months to 4 years old; some of those children served as controls and received placebo shots, while others received the actual vaccine doses.

Both cases involved companies following up with children about 2 months after receiving the second vaccine in their primary series. Both cases showed similar rates of adverse reactions to the ones observed in older children and adults. These data were based on real-world data from thousands of millions of adults and adolescents who had been vaccinated.

None of the young children who were vaccinated in either company’s studies developed severe adverse reactions. The most concerning side effect that has been documented in older children, mostly adolescents, involves inflammation of heart tissue; it’s extremely rare even in that age group, and so far hasn’t been seen at all among younger vaccinated children.

The CDC’s system for monitoring side effects and reactions to vaccines will continue to comb through data to pick up any signs of increases in known side effects, or reports of new ones. The vaccine makers will continue to examine the safety of and effectiveness their shots for young children.

Kids’ shots are likely about as effective against Omicron as adult vaccines

The mRNA vaccinations were able to produce astonishing efficacy rates of up to 90% in 2020. But efficacy rates for the youngest children’s shots aren’t as impressive. Why is this? At the time that shots were created, another version of SARS-CoV-2 circulated. The original strain of COVID-19 was the target for both vaccines. That strain has been replaced by a series of variants, the latest of which is Omicron and Omicron’s subvariants, BA.4 and BA.5, which now account for half of infections in the U.S.

In Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech’s studies of younger children, participants were given the same version of the vaccine—targeting the original virus—at smaller doses. These studies were conducted during Omicron’s first wave, so the effectiveness of vaccines for this age group was measured using antibodies that are capable of neutralizing the virus. This explains the decline in the number and quality of vaccines. However, the antibodies tested continue to protect against severe COVID-19 diseases and are only one component of the immune reaction generated by vaccines.

Even though they can’t completely stop infection, vaccines slash the risk of bad outcomes for kids

Even if they have had their vaccinations and boosters, people can still contract COVID-19. But that’s no reason not to get the shots. Even vaccines that target childhood diseases like measles are not 100% effective, there is no guarantee they will work. Vaccines are primarily designed to protect people from getting severely ill from a given disease, and not to ensure that they don’t get infected in the first place.

Omicron and subvariants are responsible for the infections that occur in vaccinated adults. Adults are immunized with vaccines that targeted the original virus; the strength of that immunity has dropped as new variants have emerged—especially against Omicron.

That said, the original vaccines are still effective at generating a broad immune response to counter the worst impacts of all of SARS-CoV-2’s variants, from Alpha to Omicron. The shots can still protect adults from becoming seriously ill by COVID-19, so even though they are getting infected themselves, hospitalizations are not necessary.

People who were vaccinated or boosted reported less severe symptoms and more disease in general than those who weren’t. Experts believe the same holds true for children.

Omicron can be obtained safer when young children have been vaccinated

Studies have documented Long COVID, a constellation of lingering symptoms involving the brain, heart, and other body systems that could represent lasting health effects of an infection—but the true extent of Long COVID remains unknown. Long COVID data is less comprehensive for children. Most public health professionals believe the SARS/CoV-2 vaccines have more preventative benefits than any possible risks. The risk of getting Long COVID occurs less in adults than it does for children, according to data. Research is showing that those who are vaccinated have milder symptoms than people who were not vaccinated.

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