When facing a vicious infection, there is nothing as effective as a vaccine to protect yourself. We know this from both historic public health victories, like the battle against polio, as well as modern ones, like the Hib and pneumococcal vaccines that have saved 1.45 million children’s lives since 2000.
As a pediatrician, I know the benefits of vaccines for each of my patients. Every day in my practice, I talk with parents about all the vaccines their children need to stay healthy. And it’s why I am counseling parents to get their children the COVID-19 vaccine as soon as they are eligible. It is why I am vaccinating my own children as well.
The good news is that we now have a vaccine approved for those 12 and older. By this fall, we may have a vaccine for younger children, too. My 16-year-old has already been vaccinated, and my 12-year-old is not far behind.
The authorization of the two-dose Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for this group of children comes at an ideal time. If you are able to get your 12-year-old his or her first dose this month, your child would be fully vaccinated in time for summer vacations, trips to the beach or pool, summer camps and gatherings with friends. And, of course, your child also would be fully protected before heading back to school in the fall.
For our tweens and teens who have made so many sacrifices over the past year, being immunized against COVID-19 can give them the freedom and peace of mind to have the summer they have been waiting for.
In clinical trials, none of the adolescents who received the vaccine got COVID-19, which makes this vaccine one of the most effective ones we have to protect against disease. The side effects were similar to the ones adults have experienced: arm soreness, fatigue, and flu-like symptoms that typically go away after a day or so.
It’s true that most children who get COVID-19 have mild symptoms, but some do get very sick. Nearly 14,000 children were hospitalized due to COVID-19 between March 2020 and March 2021, and 279 children died. But we can’t predict which children will become extremely ill. The vaccine takes away that guesswork.
We also don’t yet fully understand the long-term effects of COVID-19 infection in children. There is early evidence that some children with asymptomatic or mild infection may go on to develop such long-term symptoms as fatigue, muscle and joint pain, and respiratory problems, the National Institutes of Health reports.
Even those who can’t yet be vaccinated, such as newborns, are offered some protection when there’s community immunity because the disease doesn’t have much chance to spread. The more of us who are vaccinated, including teens, the better we are able to protect our loved ones and our community around us.
The COVID-19 vaccine is safe, it works, and it’s important.
If your children still are too young for the COVID-19 vaccine, this is a great time to get them in to see their pediatrician to catch up on other vaccinations they may have missed during the pandemic. Your pediatrician can guide you on which vaccines are necessary at which ages and can answer questions you may have about the COVID-19 vaccine, so you will be ready for that decision when the time comes.
We want our children to be back in school, safely learning and spending time with friends. We want to be able to take our kids to movie theaters and theme parks and to ballgames and to feel safe. We want them to be able to hug their cousins at family reunions.
Getting them vaccinated is a big step toward helping our kids be kids again.
Dr. Lee Savio Beers is a pediatrician and the president of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Dr. Lee Savio Beers is a pediatrician and the president of the American Academy