Written by guest writter Dr. Johanna Vidal-Phelan, MD, MBA, FAAP
With the start of a new year, we need to prioritize immunizing our family members against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.
COVID-19 vaccines are now approved for children five years of age and older. Just like their adult counterparts, children need to be protected against COVID-19. COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective. As a pediatrician, I highly encourage parents and caregivers to make the time to immunize their children in preparation for any family celebration or get-togethers.
The COVID-19 pandemic has negatively impacted the lives of many children. As of mid-November 2021, 6.8 million children have tested positive for COVID-19 since the onset of the pandemic. (American Academy of Pediatrics. Children and COVID-19: State-Level Data Report. November 18, 2021.) Children can be infected and become very ill with COVID-19 and can experience both short-term and long-term complications from the virus. When you vaccinate your children against COVID-19, you help protect them against the virus, thus reducing the risk of hospitalization and the worsening of disease manifestations. Immunizing children against the COVID-19 virus also helps protect other family members with vulnerable medical conditions, such as elderly grandparents or newborn babies who are too young to receive the vaccine.
Let’s address some common questions parents may have about the vaccine:
Question #1: Can I get COVID-19 from the COVID-19 vaccine?
No, the COVID-19 vaccine cannot make you sick with COVID-19, as it does not contain the virus. The COVID-19 vaccine is safe and won’t make you or your child sick with COVID-19.
Question #2: Can the COVID-19 vaccine cause any fertility issues?
No, the COVID-19 vaccine does not cause any fertility problems. COVID-19 vaccinations protect against COVID-19. Studies have shown that there is no evidence that COVID-19 vaccinations cause fertility related issues.
Question #3: If my child already had COVID-19, does he/she still need a vaccine?
For all children 5 years of age and older, the COVID-19 vaccine is recommended, even after having a confirmed COVID-19 illness. Vaccination against COVID-19 provides greater levels of protection (immunity) when compared to experiencing the viral illness without inoculation. Regardless of previous COVID-19 illness, the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) recommends in favor of vaccination. With any questions, please talk to your medical provider.
Question #4: Can my child get the COVID-19 vaccine if he/she recently received another vaccine?
Your child can receive the COVID-19 vaccination with other vaccines, including the influenza vaccine. As the flu season starts, children (and adults alike) can receive the COVID-19 and influenza vaccines at the same time. Don’t delay scheduling and receiving these important immunizations. Now is the time to schedule these critical vaccine appointments.
Question #5: When is my child immune after receiving the COVID-19 vaccination?
Parents need to know that a child is not immune after receiving only one of the two needed COVID-19 vaccines. Children need to receive 2 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, at least 3 weeks (or 21 days) apart. Your child won’t be protected against COVID-19 until 2 weeks after receiving the second dose of the vaccine (At the time of publication, December 2021, the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is the only COVID-19 vaccine approved for children ages 5 through 18 years).
The good news is that since the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccination was approved for children 12 years of age and older in May 2021, millions of children and adolescents have already been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. As of November 2021, COVID-19 vaccines are now approved for children five years of age and older. As a parent myself, I wholeheartedly encourage families not to delay in providing the COVID-19 vaccine to their children as soon as possible. My two sons, ages 16 and 12, are both already vaccinated against COVID-19, providing our family with additional peace of mind as they go off to school (wearing their masks) every day.
Parents and caregivers can contact their local pediatrician or family doctor to schedule a COVID-19 vaccine appointment for their children. Families can also go online to Vaccines.gov or Vacunas.gov (Spanish website) to find local offices, pharmacies and clinics that are providing COVID-19 vaccinations. To schedule a COVID-19 vaccine at UPMC, you can go online to Vaccine.UPMC.com or call 1-844-876-2822 between 8 A.M. to 5 P.M., seven days a week. COVID-19 vaccines are available at no cost, regardless of immigration or insurance status.
As we plan to start a new year, let’s vaccinate our families against COVID-19. In conjunction with wearing masks and washing hands, vaccinations are an extremely powerful tool in our toolbox to help protect our families and children.
Resources in English: CDC: COVID-19 Vaccines for Children and Teens. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/recommendations/children-teens.html
Written by guest writter Dr. Johanna Vidal-Phelan, MD, MBA, FAAP – Senior Medical Director of Quality and Pediatrics, UPMC Insurance Division & Clinical Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, University of Pittsburgh, UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh