Cue the conspiracy theorists, the crunchy mamas, the vehement anti-vaxxers. I hope y'all are sitting down because I'm coming in hot to tell you that we will be vaccinating our preschooler against Covid-19 as soon as the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine becomes available for his age group. Get your rotten vegetables ready to throw and start building a pyre, because in this thought piece I plan to take you through our three reasons for vaccinating...and I'll address some common arguments against doing so along the way.
Now listen. I like to think that I'm pretty scientifically literate and aware. I have been geeking over epidemic illnesses ever since my freshman biology teacher had us read The Hot Zone: A Terrifying True Story. Whenever the news starts in on a fresh outbreak, mutation, or epidemic, I consume the headlines with morbid fascination. From reading about the Black Death to the swine flu to the 2014 Ebola outbreaks, disease has always been interesting to me.
And I married the right guy. My husband is an epidemiologist, currently working on direct response to Covid-19. He warned me as early as Christmas time in 2019 that this Covid stuff could be really bad. Like global pandemic proportions. But as closely as he monitored the first outbreaks and tried to prepare our family for the largely still unknown in those final days of the year before last, I don't know if either of us ever imagined this pandemic dragging on for so long or taking the lives of so many. We definitely never expected Covid-19 to be so politically polarizing in the U.S. (maybe we should have), seemingly dividing folks along party lines and creating what the experts call "vaccine hesitancy" in millions of adults.
Personally speaking, most of my family got our Covid-19 vaccines as soon we became eligible. The majority of us had Pfizer, though a few took Moderna. Our side effects ranged, with my grandparents getting knocked down with fevers for about two days to me with no side effects at all. Getting my vaccine and seeing many of my adult family members get their vaccines felt like a huge breath of fresh air after a year of worrying about getting sick or seeing a vulnerable family member get sick. But what, I wondered, about my young son? How long would it be until he became eligible for a vaccine, and when the time came, would I be willing to seek one for him?
Despite my jests from the introduction, I do understand the hesitancy to vaccinate children. When I reached out to my social circle to ask how people are feeling about seeking the Pfizer vaccine for their kids, many of the commenters felt conflicted, but most agreed that they would likely not seek a Covid-19 vaccine for their child, at least not at first. Everyone who shared their thoughts about the vaccine is someone I know to be an outstanding parent who wants what's best for their child or children. I think we all do. I can definitely empathize with feeling fearful or hesitant when it comes to this vaccine.
Having listened to people's concerns, carefully considered my own, and sought to understand vaccine outcomes for children, I plan to still seek a vaccination against Covid-19 for my kid as soon as he's eligible. Here's why.
Covid-19 is Still Dangerous for Children
A pervasive misunderstanding I have seen in various places around the internet is that contracting Covid would not be dangerous for a child because they typically have milder reactions than adults and seem to recover quickly. My biggest concern with this is that some children do still get very sick, some with severe acute Covid-19 and others with the lesser understood Mis-C. Some die. While a severe outcome does seem much less likely for kids at this point, it doesn't rule it out as possibility. It's important for parents to weigh the likelihood of a severe outcome from Covid-19 versus the likelihood a severe reaction from the Pfizer vaccine.
Moreover, we are now dealing with several significant variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that could potentially pose greater risk to children...plus, there are in all likelihood more deadly variants on the horizon and there is simply not a good way to know whether or not they will be more harmful and deadly to kids than the Covid-19 iterations we have dealt with so far.
Finally there is a question of long-term issues for people who contract Covid-19 as children. We know that it can cause long-term problems in adults. From drastic changes in the lungs, to neurological and heart problems, even adults who have mild cases of Covid-19 can run into health problems down the road. But what about children? Does having a milder case in childhood mean that there could be serious future consequences to health and wellness? The answer is absolutely, though researchers are still studying exactly how significant these long-term effects will be. The problem with a novel virus is that it's still being studied, and new information emerges daily. If there end up being extremely serious long-term problems for people who had Covid-19 as kids, we aren't likely to know about it for several months, or possibly even years.
I read several news articles about children who have experienced serious long-term issues, but one that stood out to me described a 15 year old diagnosed with Covid-19 related COPD. This is an incurable condition, and one we watched my husband's treasured grandmother decline from back in 2019. I literally cannot imagine my child having this condition at any point. I worry that we may see additional long-term problems in children who had Covid-19 as time goes on.
Children Can Spread Covid-19
One of the biggest factors in our decision to vaccinate our child against Covid-19 is that children can still spread it to other people. Unfortunately, this became somewhat contested by members of the media and the public during the highly politicized debate over reopening K-12 schools. The truth of the matter is that children can spread Covid-19 just like everyone else.
But why does it matter if all the adults who want the vaccine have been vaccinated?
Well, some vulnerable populations cannot receive the Covid-19 vaccine. Maybe they have a history of vaccine allergies or other conditions that contraindicate administering a vaccine to them. They might be too medically vulnerable to receive it. For the sake of everyone who is vulnerable and can't be vaccinated, I believe it is important for my family to step up to do what we can to make sure our neighbors are protected.
Additionally, being vaccinated doesn't mean you can't contract Covid-19. There are instances of breakthrough cases that epidemiologists all over the world are still trying to trace and understand. I am medically vulnerable to a severe outcome from Covid-19. My kid gets into our bed almost every night after his first wake-up, falling back asleep in between us, and certainly not six feet apart. And we're together all the time when he's not in preschool. I do worry that if he picks up Covid-19, he might be perfectly fine, but my husband or I might still get sick. Or he might happen to visit his grandparents while asymptomatic but positive, and get one of them sick with a breakthrough case. Having the entire household vaccinated is simply our best shot at protecting each other and the people around us.
The Pfizer-BioNTech Vaccine is Well-Studied
This argument is key, because I think it is human to fear the unknown. Especially when it comes to our children. Given that the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is still not FDA approved, I think many parents are hesitant because they worry it has not been properly studied and vetted.
The popular argument that the vaccine has not been studied extensively is untrue.
It is actually very well-studied, with published results from both a Phase 1 and a Phase 2 clinical trial. 43,448 study participants aged 16 and older were part of the multinational, observer-blind Phase 2 clinical trial, with 21,720 participants receiving injections of the vaccine and 21,728 participants receiving a placebo (a substance that has no therapeutic effect, used as a control in testing new drugs).
The most common side effect from this Phase 2 clinical trial was "mild-to-moderate pain at the injection site within 7 days after an injection...with less than 1% of participants across all age groups reporting severe pain." Other common reported side effects were fever and headache. Of the 21,720 receiving the vaccine in this study, only four had serious adverse events related to the vaccine, including one shoulder injury from improper vaccine administration.
It was because the Pfizer-BioNTech was proven overwhelmingly safe in the Phase 2 clinical trial that it was approved for Emergency Use Authorization in the U.S. It takes years for a vaccine to be fully approved by the FDA, but EUA requirements are no laughing matter, either.
The FDA says on its website that an EUA "is a mechanism to facilitate the availability and use of medical countermeasures, including vaccines, during public health emergencies, such as the current COVID-19 pandemic." They go on to say that "once submitted, FDA will evaluate an EUA request and determine whether the relevant statutory criteria are met, taking into account the totality of the scientific evidence about the vaccine that is available to FDA."
They describe the Covid-19 vaccinations as rigorously tested "to generate the scientific data and other information needed by FDA to determine safety and effectiveness." For an EUA to be issued, the FDA must:
have manufacturing information to ensure quality and consistency have all safety data accumulated from phase 1 and 2 studies conducted with the vaccine have a phase 3 safety database "representing a high proportion of participants enrolled in the phase 3 study, who have been followed for serious adverse events and adverse events of special interest for at least one month after completion of the full vaccination regimen." be able to determine that the "known and potential" benefits outweigh the "known and potential" risks
These items are all evaluated by the FDA's career scientists and physicians, and discussed in open forum by outside professionals from the Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee before determining whether an Emergency Use Authorization can be approved. Knowing all of the steps makes me feel quite comfortable with getting a vaccine for myself.
And for kids? We know that the FDA approved the vaccine for children 12 and older following the same guidelines and requirements I outline above. Per their May 10 press release, there are "2,260 participants ages 12 through 15 years old enrolled in an ongoing randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trial in the United States. Of these, 1,131 adolescent participants received the vaccine and 1,129 received a saline placebo. More than half of the participants were followed for safety for at least two months following the second dose." Also important to note is that the vaccine has been 100% effective in the vaccinated 12-15 population of the clinical trial so far, with no Covid-19 cases among this group. Furthermore, Pfizer has outlined their plan for continued safety monitoring of this group to the satisfaction of the FDA.
The long and short of it? It's true that the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine has been studied for only a short amount of time. I can't sit here and tell you that there is ten or fifteen years of safety and efficacy data behind it, because there's just not. But given the circumstances we find ourselves in (a deadly global pandemic), I think it is riskier for my family to avoid the shot than to take it.
Is it *technically* true that we don't know what the long-term effects, if any, will be? I guess. But it's important to remember that we have history on our side. The same mRNA technology used in the Pfizer vaccine has been studied and worked with for decades, including for flu, Zika, rabies, and cancer. Serious side effects of vaccinations historically show up and are addressed within two months of vaccine administration. No one can give you a single example of a modern vaccine that has made masses of people grow a third arm or something ten or fifteen years after taking it. Vaccines are very safe for most people.
What About The Whackier Theories?
A.k.a vaccinating your kid will not change their DNA. Or render them infertile. These are the two most common nutty ideas I've heard passed around a bunch, frequently by conspiracy theorists and other folks who are past the point of having a rational conversation. Given the method in which the Pfizer vaccine (and others) has been tested and the strict requirements it had to meet to achieve EUA approval, it should be clear that side effects this serious are in no way realistic or associated with vaccinating. But if you are interested in going down this rabbit hole, I direct you to the Center for Disease Control, who will reassure that the Pfizer vaccine does not alter DNA in any way and to infectious disease expert Dr. David Brett-Major, who explains why the vaccines do not lead to infertility (they also did not affect animal fertility in clinical trials).
As far as 5G, government tracking devices, the CDC and FDA being out to get us, and other nonsense...this really isn't that kind of thought piece. I encourage you to do your own reading and always...
Reach Out to Your Doctor/Pediatrician
While this piece describes what I am doing for myself and my family, none of it constitutes medical advice. One of the very best things you can do is to take any concerns you have to your family doctor or pediatrician and talk it over with them. They should have a full picture of your family medical history, and will be able to give you best practice advice for yourself and your family. We have discussed our decision to vaccinate at great length with our family doctors, but previous vaccine allergies and other factors may preclude some from getting their shot. That's why my family is choosing to step up and bare our arms...to protect those who are still vulnerable and to help beat Covid-19 and return as quickly as possible to life as we knew it.
Appreciate my thoughts? Leave me a heart or a tip, or follow me on Twitter @arkansas_scrawl. I write about all sorts of things that interest me!
About the Creator
I'm a wife and mom, and this is my creative outlet. I am experimenting with lots of different writing styles and topics, so some of it is garbage, and I'm totally fine with that - writing is cheaper than therapy. Thanks for stopping by!