As the new Delta Variant of COVID-19 is spreading rapidly across the United States, it’s increasingly important that families get eligible kids and adults vaccinated against the virus that has killed more than 600,000 Americans. Ages 12 and older can now get the COVID-19 vaccine for FREE from local doctors and pharmacies across the state. Still, vaccine hesitancy has taken Arizona from being one of the states with the highest COVID vaccination rates earlier this year (when our mass vaccination sites were being touted) to being ranked in the bottom half of states for our percentage of eligible people vaccinated.
Dr. Nathan Price, pediatrics professor at the University of Arizona and Banner University Medical Center in Tucson, is a father of five who signed up his two oldest children for the COVID-19 vaccination the first day it was available to ages 12 and up in May. Like many parents concerned about protecting kids and vulnerable loved ones from coronavirus, he says he “can’t wait” until his younger children are also eligible for the vaccine.
“I think that vaccination for adults and children is going to change life for the better and make a huge difference in the fight against COVID,” Price told Raising Arizona Kids, adding these vaccines “are safe and effective. If they weren’t so, I wouldn’t put the health of my family and patients at risk by recommending them.”
Still, Price has gotten plenty of questions from concerned parents. Here’s what he shared about why kids should be vaccinated.
Is the COVID vaccine FREE?
COVID vaccines are free to everyone, including children 12 years and older for whom the vaccine is approved for use. Vaccine providers cannot charge you for anything related to the vaccine, including vaccine cost, copay, balance after insurance cost, administration fees, etc. If you receive a bill, it will be an error, and you should contact your provider to rectify it.
Extreme sickness and death from COVID are more rare for kids, so why should I get my child vaccinated?
When compared to adults, children don’t seem to be at as high a risk for severe infection with COVID. That being said, many children do get severe infections, and some have died or had severe long-term effects, some of which will likely be permanent and life changing. COVID infection can also lead to a post infectious inflammatory syndrome called MIS-C that can affect the brain, heart, skin, lungs, intestines, kidneys, etc. It can be life threatening. Most of those children had mild infection, and many didn’t know they had ever been infected. I have treated more than a few children over the last year or so that required hospitalization and/or ICU care due to COVID or MIS-C. Vaccinating children can prevent not only infection, but should also prevent the post infectious inflammatory syndrome as well. Also, if someone is immune to the infection, then they are less likely to pass that same virus on to someone else who is vulnerable. Everyone who died or had severe COVID got it from someone else. Vaccination helps block that spread from person to person and can help protect others that you love.
How can I be sure the COVID vaccine will be safe for my child?
COVID vaccines have been rigorously studied. Even though they have been developed in record time, the FDA has not allowed vaccine manufacturers to cut any corners. They were able to get these vaccines from theory to actual use so quickly because many of the studies were done in an overlapping fashion instead of one at a time with waiting a long time in between each step.
In times before the pandemic, funding for vaccines (and most medications) was tight, and it didn’t make sense for a vaccine manufacturer to move forward quickly if early testing didn’t show that it was effective. Because there has been so much support to get these vaccines developed, the companies were able to take financial risks and start the next phase before it was confirmed that it would be useful to do so. The vaccines that are now available are the result of that. This process didn’t allow unsafe or ineffective vaccines to move all the way forward to everyday use. The vaccines were tested in thousands of adults, and now have been given to hundreds of millions of adults. They have a good track record of being effective and safe overall.
The vaccine trials tested thousands of children with good effect and safety. Almost 6 million children have now been vaccinated in the US. Many have some symptoms after the vaccine, but most are mild to moderate and resolve within a day or two, similar to what is seen with other vaccines. There may be rare more severe adverse side effects. Some can be quite serious, such as severe allergic reactions. Again, these are very rare and are possible with any vaccine or medication that children take. Currently the CDC is investigating reports of myocarditis, which is heart inflammation after COVID vaccines. This is a very rare condition, and study is underway to see if it is related to the vaccine or just coincidence. To put it in perspective, COVID infection or post COVID inflammation a syndrome called (MIS-C) is much more likely to cause myocarditis than the vaccine. So at the end of the day, COVID vaccination for children is quite safe and effective.
Is there an easy way to explain mRNA technology used in the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines and why it’s safe?
mRNA technology has been around for a while, but hasn’t been mainstream until the COVID vaccine was approved for emergency use. Messenger RNA (mRNA) is a molecule that the cell uses to send messages to make proteins in the cell. So basically, the vaccine delivers the message to the cells to make antibodies against the virus that causes COVID. That way, the body is prepared to fight off the infection before it gets started. There are many steps along the way to getting antibodies produced for protection. This is just one way to do it that is quick and effective.
How will the vaccine for kids be different from the COVID vaccine for adults? Is it just a different dosage?
The dosage for the Pfizer vaccine is the same for adults as for adolescents. Studies are ongoing in younger children and will be used to determine if a different dosage is needed.
Will my child feel tired or ill after getting the vaccine?
Side effects for children are similar to those of adults. They are similar to side effects of other vaccines and include fever, fatigue, pain and/or swelling at the site of injection, rash, etc. They tend to last a day or two then go away. Many people have no side effects at all.
What are the biggest concerns you are hearing from parents about vaccinating their children, and how do you address them?
Parents are concerned about if the vaccine is safe and effective. I continue to talk with people about the reliability of the process that the manufacturers followed, the results of the studies and information that we have and the continued surveillance for safety and efficacy that is ongoing. The CDC has some good information for patients and parents at cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines
What will my vaccinated child be able to do that my child shouldn’t do if left unvaccinated for COVID?
Vaccinated children should be better protected from infection, so should be able to safely do more. As more people are getting vaccinated and the rates of infection are going down, the CDC and other groups are allowing vaccinated individuals to get back to a more normal pre-pandemic life. Vaccination should be particularly helpful in getting back safely to normal, non-mask interaction in schools, sports, camps, travel and other activities.
When/where can I get my child vaccinated?
There are many providers administering vaccines, from doctor’s offices to pharmacies to community-run vaccine clinics. The Arizona Department of Health Services website is helpful in finding a vaccine near you: azdhs.gov/covid19/vaccines/index.php#find-vaccines
What didn’t I ask that you’d like to add?
Though infection rates are going down, we’re not out of the woods yet. I think that vaccination for adults and children is going to change life for the better and make a huge difference in the fight against COVID. They are safe and effective. If they weren’t so, I wouldn’t put the health of my family and patients at risk by recommending them. I got vaccinated as soon as it was available to me. My wife recently finished her series (she was in a different risk category than me). I signed my two oldest children (ages 12 and 14) up for vaccination the first day it was available … I can’t wait for the vaccine to be available for my 8- and 10-year-old children, and am planning on vaccinating them as soon as possible.
Raising Arizona Kids partners with the Arizona Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics to bring evidence-based child-health information to Arizona communities.