Kids ages 5-11 and the COVID vaccine: Answers to parents' common questions : Shots - Health News Physicians weigh in on what you need to know about the safety and efficacy of the vaccine, and how to think about the risks and benefits of vaccinating your kid

Some parents want to wait to vaccinate their kids. Here's why doctors say do it now

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

How are parents and kids under 12 approaching their chance for vaccinations? Some people instantly acted after the U.S. authorized a Pfizer vaccine for kids 5 to 11 last week. Other parents are still searching for appointments that are suddenly hard to get, and still other parents have doubts about the vaccine for their kids. NPR's Allison Aubrey and Selena Simmons-Duffin have been talking with families and pediatricians. Good morning, guys.

SELENA SIMMONS-DUFFIN, BYLINE: Hello.

ALLISON AUBREY, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: How is the rollout going so far, Allison?

AUBREY: You know, there are lots of shots going into kids' arms, Steve, already. The federal government has ordered enough doses to vaccinate all the kids in this age group who want it. Thousands of pediatricians are offering the shot, also pharmacies. I made an appointment online at CVS for my daughter, which began administering shots yesterday. Many areas have already started pop-up vaccine clinics at schools and community centers. So depending on where you live, the options may vary a bit. You can check out locations administering it at vaccines.gov.

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: And Steve, a reporter in Phoenix at KJZZ, Rocio Hernandez, went along with one family that was lucky enough to get appointments right away. The kids are Adora and Violet Snedecor. And here's Violet. She's 9.

VIOLET SNEDECOR: I'm getting the COVID vaccine because I want to be more safe around everyone. And I want to also be able to eat out again and have birthday parties again and not have to, like, do, like, online stuff.

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: No more Zoom parties.

INSKEEP: Yeah, yeah. I think people will be OK without the Zoom parties. My 6-year-old is excited. Where's my shot? Where's my shot?

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: Yeah.

INSKEEP: And this is a reminder - kids have been missing a lot because of safety concerns.

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: Right, yeah. Kids have opinions about this for sure. It's not just parents.

INSKEEP: Well, let's talk about the parents' opinions, though, because some parents are concerned. Some parents are wondering even if they themselves got vaccinated, if it's right for their 5- to 11-year-old. Do you think that the official word here is going to make a difference in people's opinions?

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: Yeah, we'll have to see how the rollout goes out and how parents' confidence shifts along the way. Certainly, federal health officials and advisers that reviewed the data gave the vaccine a strong endorsement after reviewing Pfizer's data and analyzing the risks and benefits of giving these shots to kids. And just to recap, Pfizer did a clinical trial with about 4,000 children in this age group. They were given a third of the dose going to adults and teenagers, and they found the vaccine was safe and about 91% effective at preventing COVID-19. And public health officials point out that while kids often only get mildly ill, there have been more than 8,000 COVID hospitalizations and nearly 200 deaths in this age group since the pandemic began. It can be a very serious illness, and it can have lasting effects.

INSKEEP: I'm also just thinking, kids are around parents. Kids are around older people, and there's a family that we know where a kid was infected. Kid was too young to vaccinate at that point, and the parent ended up with a breakthrough infection.

AUBREY: Yes, absolutely possible. Yes, kids can transmit the virus, which is one of the reasons for vaccinating this age group.

INSKEEP: But with that said, there are side effects - or can be - to the vaccine. How bad are they?

AUBREY: You know, a sore arm is the most common one, Steve - also maybe a headache or fatigue. But fever and chills are actually pretty rare among this age group. That's what the clinical trial showed. As far as potential serious side effects, myocarditis, which is inflammation of the heart, has been the big concern. But there were no cases of myocarditis in kids 5 to 11 in the Pfizer clinical trial. It has been seen very rarely among young men. Of about 900 reports to the CDC, there have been no deaths, and cardiologists who've treated these patients say most recover quickly. Bottom line - the main point pediatricians make is that the risk of developing myocarditis as the result of a COVID infection is actually higher than the risk of getting it from the vaccine.

INSKEEP: Well, let's get some more advice from pediatricians to parents who may have some hesitations. What are they saying to parents who might say, I want to wait a little while and see how this plays out?

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: Well, most pediatricians we're talking to say, don't wait. First of all, they point out that the virus is unpredictable. Sometimes healthy children can get very sick. The weather is also getting colder, and people will be indoors more. They'll be gathering for the holidays. And all of that increases the risk of COVID spreading. They also say that if your child has a condition that could put them at higher risk, like obesity or a chronic respiratory condition, or if you have a vulnerable family member at home, like a grandparent or sibling who's too young to get vaccinated, doctors say those are all reasons to really hustle.

INSKEEP: What are the risks for kids who've already been infected with COVID?

AUBREY: You know, kids who've been infected with COVID do have some immunity following the infection, but it is not clear how long that immunity holds up or how strong it is. And that's why the recommendation is for all kids of this age group to get the two shots 21 days apart. This applies to kids who've already had COVID. During the CDC deliberations, advisers looked at data showing that about 38% of kids have antibodies to the virus, so they've already been infected. But when those kids were vaccinated, Steve, they got a big boost in antibodies one month after vaccination. So pediatricians say, you know, it's just not worth it to miss out on the full protection that the vaccine offers.

INSKEEP: Let me ask about the benefits here. I've been on many a playground lately where the grown-ups are all vaccinated so far as I know. And we're outdoors, so we're all standing around without masks, and the little kids are still running around with masks on. Once more kids are vaccinated, can 5- to 11-year-olds take off the masks on playgrounds or in schools or other places?

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: I mean, that's such a big question, right? And CDC has not yet given out detailed guidance on what kids can do once they're fully vaccinated. The broader guidance is, of course, mask when you're out in public indoors is still a good idea, and that will probably be the case for a while until transmission gets much lower. It's still high or substantial in most of the country. For schools that have mask mandates, I think those rules are probably going to be in place for a while now, so hopefully that's kind of become routine for everyone. But certainly, families that are in small gatherings indoors with everyone fully vaccinated, including kids, are probably going to start taking their masks off.

INSKEEP: NPR's Selena Simmons-Duffin and Allison Aubrey. It's always a pleasure to talk with you.

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: Thank you.

AUBREY: Thank you, Steve.

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