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Q&A: What WCCUSD parents want to know about the COVID-19 vaccine for young kids

on November 20, 2021

Vaccine appointments for children ages 5 to 11 were booked at all Contra Costa County Health Services sites this week, after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention endorsed the pediatric COVID-19 vaccine earlier this month. 

As of Friday, more than 18,000 young children in the county had received a dose of the Pfizer vaccine, according to Health Services — about 1 in 5 children.

While the CDC recommends kids to be vaccinated, some parents are still hesitant about it. A poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation in October found that more than 30% of parents want to “wait and see” how the vaccination works before signing up their kids. They mostly are concerned about ​​long-term effects, serious side effects and impacts on fertility.

To resolve the confusion and address concerns, Health Services and the Contra Costa County Office of Education hosted virtual town hall meetings this fall. The first meeting generated a thousand questions and comments, said Lynn Mackey, county schools superintendent. 

“I would say the majority has been from parents that are skeptical,” she said. “That’s why we want to try to get people to listen to our health care providers.”

Here are common questions parents have about the vaccine and explanations from researchers and medical professionals:

Are the vaccines safe for my kids?

Pfizer and Bio-tech’s study shows that no new safety issues were discovered during its vaccine trial. None of the 3,109 participants ages 5 to 11 had a serious reaction.The CDC and the Food and Drug Administration are continuing to review and analyze the vaccine for kids. 

What are the common side effects for younger kids? 

Children may have mild side effects such as a sore arm, fatigue, headache, or slight fever, which are similar to other age groups getting the vaccine. Most symptoms pass within a day or two.

No heart inflammation, such as myocarditis and pericarditis, was reported during clinical trials. However, Pfizer and Bio-tech noted that the studies were not large enough to detect such rare side effects. Some teenagers and young adults reported heart inflammation after getting Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, but those cases were  still rare and mild. The chance of developing severe illness and death after a COVID-19 infection is much higher.

Will the vaccine affect puberty or fertility?

No, says Dr. Rahul Parikh from Kaiser Permanente.  

He said, “mRNA vaccines are just giving instructions to our cells on how to produce antibodies that will kill COVID if you get infected.” The technology has been around for many years, he added.

Health experts say long-term side effects after COVID-19 vaccinations are unlikely.  Side effects that last longer than six weeks have not been detected through the vaccine monitoring system, according to the CDC.

With the death and hospitalization rate among children so low, is it necessary to vaccinate my kids?

While kids are less likely than adults to get sick from COVID-19, they can still spread the virus to others who are more vulnerable to serious illness or can’t get vaccinated. The shot also can lower the risk of serious illness, long-lasting COVID-19 symptoms, hospitalization and death.

The death and hospitalization rates of children from 5 to 11 years old are low in Contra Costa County, but the infection rate is the highest among all age groups in the last 30 days, according to Health Services.

As of Nov. 17, more than 2.1 million cases have been reported nationally in 5-to-11 year olds, according to the CDC. Hospitalizations among children and teenagers increased nearly fivefold, as the delta variant emerged. More than 8,300 kids in that age group have been hospitalized with COVID-19 because of serious illness. 

“Around 30% of kids who were hospitalized with COVID-19 did not have underlying conditions,” said Dr. Dipti Barot from LifeLong Medical Center. “And that’s not a number that has been publicized.”

Do kids get the same dosage as adults? 

Dosage for children under 12 years old is one-third of the amount given to adults and teens. Kids will receive two doses, 21 days apart. Pfizer and Biotech’s clinical trial shows effectiveness with the 10-microgram dose is about 90%. 

If my kid already got COVID, do they still need to be vaccinated?

Previous infection does not guarantee that you will have the antibodies to fight again in the future,” Barot said.

A study published by the CDC shows that not all people recovering from COVID-19 produce immunity that protects them from reinfection. And it found that younger people with less of the virus in their blood are less likely to develop antibodies.  

“We have definitely had people who had COVID last year, and then delta came around and it was their round two,” Barot said.“And when we talked to those patients, it was a lot worse the second time, and they really felt it around all ages.”

Will health providers be able to give my children shots even without my consent? 

Contra Costa County requires consent from a parent or legal guardian before vaccinating a child. And children must be accompanied by an adult during the vaccination or show a parent’s written consent.

How can I make appointments for my kids?

Parents can make appointments at any vaccine site, online or by calling 833-829-2626. Health Services is also working with schools, in partnership with health care providers such as La Clinica, Lifelong, John Muir, and Kaiser, to provide pediatric doses at 25 school-based vaccine clinics. Parents also can use to find the nearest pharmacy or providers that have Pfizer vaccines in stock. 

Will there be a school vaccine mandate for younger children?

The West Contra Costa Unified School District has not yet mandated vaccines for kids under the age of 11 and declined to comment for this story. 

Mackey, the county schools superintendent, still encourages parents to get their younger kids vaccinated. Vaccinated students will not have to quarantine if they are exposed to someone with COVID-19 as long as they don’t have any symptoms, which means they won’t miss in-person learning.

“If you’re vaccinated, you have a less chance of spreading it,” Mackey said. “It really helps protect our frontline staff, those teachers who are working in classrooms with 25 to 30 students every day, as well as other students and their family members.”

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