The first COVID wave seemed to leave children largely unaffected. Infections, mostly asymptomatic went unnoticed and undiagnosed.
While other activities were cancelled and COVID decimated seniors, schools stayed open. Things have markedly changed since then, and we are now looking a vastly different picture. Vaccinations are extremely successful in protecting our most vulnerable but the new variants of concern are hitting younger people harder and harder. Children do get sick with COVID, they get hospitalized and some of them die. Complications of COVID including multi-system inflammatory syndrome, Long COVID and other lasting organ damage.
All children have suffered some degree of emotional, social and educational harm this past year which may negatively affect their ongoing development. This type of stress contributes to future physical and mental health problems. Unvaccinated, children, and their families will continue to struggle. The Pfizer mRNA vaccine has now been approved for children 12 – 15 years of age.
During clinical trials it was 100 per cent effective at preventing COVID. Building on the adult data helped speed up these trials, but the safety and efficacy specifically in adolescents had to be reconfirmed. More than 3 million teenagers have now been safely vaccinated. Children’s immune systems are generally stronger and more reactive, so vaccinations in childhood are often more effective and longer lasting. However, this robust immune response may cause slightly more minor side effects such as injection site pain, fever, chills, head and muscle aches and general flu-like symptoms. There was no increase in the rate of severe side effects, like anaphylaxis. These vaccines have no direct effect on puberty hormones, nor will they prevent pregnancy – despite information circulating on social media. Young people can independently consent to being vaccinated. Many are excited and eager so they can get back to school, sports and spending time with their friends. However, many are also anxious and fearful of the actual injection.
There are many excellent resources available to help teens prepare for their vaccination. The website www.aboutkidshealth.ca/card is a good resource. Eating and drinking before you come for a vaccination can help but there is always someone available at the clinic to help if you feel unwell.
Getting kids vaccinated gets them back to the social, physical and educational activities which are essential for healthy growth and development. It decreases COVID transmission, making our community safer for all. Decades of data shows that vaccinating children protects seniors and those not able to be vaccinated. Leaving any large portion of our population unvaccinated increases all our risks. It allows COVID to spread and mutate, creating even stronger and more dangerous variants.
Vaccinating our higher risk population has helped flatten the curve, but if we ever want to eliminate it, we need to vaccinate everyone as soon as possible.
Dr. Kristin Morrison is a member of the Prince Edward Family Health Team specializing in Pediatrics.