When a COVID-19 vaccine is available for young kids, should they get it?

As any child will tell you, grown-ups love to make things more complicated. They rarely miss an opportunity to debate about things.

Case in point: the COVID-19 vaccination for children ages 5 to 11.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has granted an emergency use authorization for child-sized doses (made by Pfizer and BioNTech) of the vaccine . That paves the way for making it available to elementary-school-age children by the end of the week.

The action was recommended by experts , who advise the FDA regarding vaccines. Groups like these have always recommended that everyone get vaccinated, regardless of age. this was a different :. Several members stated that they don’t believe the vaccine should be given to young children, at least not right now.

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This week, another group of vaccine experts that advises the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will debate which 5- to 11-year-olds should get vaccinated. They’re likely to argue – and make it seem complicated.

Why all the drama?

You might be wondering why there’s even a question about whether to vaccinate kids against COVID-19.

The danger of the disease seems clear: At least 94 children ages 5 to 11 have died of COVID-19 since the pandemic began, and 8,300 have become so sick they needed to be hospitalized.

Even some who had only mild symptoms went on to develop MIS-C, a condition in which the immune system goes haywire and starts attacking perfectly healthy parts of the body. By early October, 5,217 kids had come down with MIS-C, including 2,034 between 6 and 11. Between 1% to 2% of them succumbed.

There’s also the possibility they could develop “long COVID.” In Great Britain, about 8% of kids who knew they had a coronavirus infection suffered symptoms that lingered for months. They experienced fatigue, muscle aches, breathing difficulties, or difficulty concentrating at school.

Another reason to consider vaccinations for young children is to get back to normal.

No one likes wearing a mask or spending two weeks in quarantine after they have been exposed to infected people. A lot of the pandemic restrictions on children would likely be removed if they were vaccinated. Children could then resume their normal lives.

What’s not to like?

Not everyone sees it that way. Some parents are still not ready to have their children vaccinated. Experts are not always sure. Over the entire pandemic, the chance that a kid of any age would die of COVID-19 never rose above one in 2 million (and was usually way lower). This is four times lower than the chance of being struck by lightning in any one year.

Plus: More than half of children with coronavirus infection are not experiencing any symptoms. The kids that have been least likely to get very sick or die are the ones between 5 and 11. Babies and teens were more likely than adults to become infected. More people died.

Given all that, these skeptics ask, why would you run the risk of getting every young kid jabbed with COVID-19 vaccine — especially if there are safety issues that researchers don’t yet understand?

A scary heart problem

One of the main things the FDA advisors argued about was a rare vaccination side effect that may not even affect kids under 12 after they get this COVID-19 vaccine. The side effect is called myocarditis, and it irritates the heart muscle, causing some swelling and often chest pain.

Myocarditis after an mRNA vaccination is definitely unusual: If you vaccinated 1 million 16- or 17-year-old boys and gave them the adult version of this Pfizer vaccine, about 70 of them would experience some form of the condition. Although it seems to disappear on its own, you will likely spend several days in hospital if you do get it. These patients will be asked to stop playing sports for three to six weeks to make sure they are OK. The problem is that nobody knows if myocarditis can permanently damage a child’s hearts. They don’t know if myocarditis could be passed to younger children who have not yet entered puberty. They believe that the dose given to children is too small to cause such an effect.

How will we find out?

This is one of many problems when assessing the safety of a vaccine in a situation of public health emergency. To speed the task of making sure this vaccine works safely in young kids, government experts relied on some of the safety data from previous trials and asked Pfizer to test smaller doses in a few thousand kids in the 5-to-11 age group.

Even if myocarditis occurred as often in little kids as it does in teenagers, you’d need more than 14,000 kids in your test group to have one case of myocarditis. With a test group of less than 3,000 kids, odds are good you won’t see any cases. But that doesn’t mean they won’t happen. No one will know until millions are vaccinated.

Some experts find it disturbing to imagine millions of children being forced into an uncharted situation . But the government has a system for keeping tabs on reports of possible vaccination side effects. Advisors were assured by the FDA that they will not put vaccines on hold if myocarditis starts to occur. They will then determine if there is a connection, and inform people.

Do kids already have some protection?

Maybe. The coronavirus can be easily transmitted to children in grade school. Even if they don’t get sick, the virus can be detected by their immune system so that when it does, their natural defenses can quickly shut it down.

A study by researchers at the CDC found that at least 40% of kids are in this category. The coronavirus is still new and no one knows how long the child’s immune system will retain it or how strong its protection will be.

With all of this information, is it sensible to rush and vaccinate everyone? Experts don’t believe so.

Is it over yet?

Many adults believed the pandemic was over. We’ve witnessed four separate instances where deaths and infections have risen, then fallen. They’ve risen again every time.

But it is important to consider whether younger children will need the vaccine. It may not be necessary to give more protection if the virus isn’t spreading as quickly because there are so many people with immunity. This is especially true if all children in this age range have to be vaccinated.

Taking that risk could be a good way to prevent another outbreak.

All kids? Or only some?

As the CDC advisors discuss the vaccine on Tuesday, one thing to listen for is whether they think all kids between 5 and 11 should get vaccinated against COVID-19, or whether they think kids in this age group should have the chance to get vaccinated if their parents or guardians think it’s a good idea? There are strong arguments and differences of opinion.

Does the vaccine do more to protect young kids or those around them?

Although most coronavirus-infected young children don’t get sick, they can spread the virus to others. It’s not easy to see that they’re spreading the virus because they seem fine while doing it. If they live with others who are infected, it can be a problem. This includes children with asthma, diabetes, obesity, and parents who have had heart disease or cancer. The young children in these situations probably should get vaccinated to cut off the chain of transmission before it reaches those who are vulnerable. Experts say that children with high-risk conditions should also be vaccinated to protect their health.

Why does anyone get vaccinated?

Mostly to protect ourselves. However, we must also protect one another.

The more people get vaccinated the greater the protection for the most vulnerable. It would be worthwhile to take a small chance of side effects from vaccinations — even one such as myocarditis — in order to protect a grandparent or classmate.

One thing is clear: Kids should be protected

The last thing to say about grown-ups is that they love their children and will fight for them against all harm. That’s why some adults who’ve been vaccinated against COVID-19 themselves might need more information before they’d get their children vaccinated, while others take their kids straight to the pediatrician for their first dose. It’s complex.

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