By Alexandra Becker
Last week, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted Emergency Use Authorization for Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 12 to 15. Public health experts and pediatricians welcomed the news, noting that widespread vaccination in all age groups will be required to bring the pandemic under control.
By late Wednesday, after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) seconded the recommendation, Memorial Hermann began administering its Pfizer vaccines to eligible individuals within the age group.
“I’m just really excited to have a chance to have a bit of normalcy again,” said 15-year-old Kathryn McCarthy, after receiving her first dose. “The more of us who get the vaccine, the faster we’ll be able to hang out in person, go to school normally, and just have our lives back.”
However, despite the excitement surrounding this next big milestone, many pediatricians are already observing a bothersome trend: some parents, many of whom have already gotten a COVID-19 vaccine themselves, appear to be more hesitant when it comes to vaccinating their children against the disease. Their reasoning? Some are worried about the possibility of unknown, long-term side effects.
But Dr. Victoria Regan, Vice President of Women’s and Children’s Services at Memorial Hermann Health System and a pediatrician by trade, said that’s flawed thinking—in fact, she explained, the very opposite may be true.
“Parents are worried about long-term side effects of the vaccine when we have absolutely no scientific basis for this theory,” Regan said. “Meanwhile, we are observing lingering side-effects of contracting COVID-19 disease—even mild cases—including myocarditis, which is a serious condition involving inflammation in the heart.”
Backed by public health experts including the CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics, Regan strongly advises that kids ages 12 to 15 become vaccinated as soon as possible now that the Pfizer vaccine is approved for their age group. These medical groups stand by the safety and efficacy of the vaccine and say the benefits far outweigh any perceived risk.
“It would be much worse for a child to get COVID-19, potentially get severely ill, spread it to their loved ones, or possibly suffer from long-term side effects down the road, including the potential for heart failure,” said Regan. “The data shows this vaccine to be safe, and it was thoroughly studied in thousands of children, all of whom were monitored carefully during the trials.”
Pfizer’s vaccine trial for this age group enrolled 2,260 adolescents 12 to 15 years of age in the U.S., and it proved to be extremely well tolerated among the participants. Even more, the vaccine demonstrated 100 percent efficacy and robust antibody responses. The observed side effects were similar to those seen in adults, including pain at the injection site, tiredness, headaches, chills, fever, and muscle and joint pain.
“This is what will allow your kids to get back to the life they had before—to sports and sleepovers and going out for pizza,” Regan said. “Through these vaccinations, they can go back to enjoying pre-pandemic activities while protecting themselves and everyone around them.”
Regan added that she highly encourages athletes to get the vaccine, since COVID-19 seems to spread quickly within these groups. She also noted that Pfizer’s vaccine protects against the new variants currently circulating in Greater Houston, so any child in this age group who previously contracted COVID-19 should also be sure to get the vaccine.
“We cannot stress enough that this vaccine is not only safe, but that by allowing your child to get this vaccine, you are making a choice to continue to keep them safe,” Regan said. “The vaccine is not the danger—COVID-19 is the danger. Please, trust the science and trust the experts.”
Parents can register their children for a COVID-19 vaccine through Memorial Hermann’s COVID-19 Vaccination Request Form. All minors must be accompanied by a parent or legal representative at their vaccine appointment.