Top pediatrician answer parents' questions about COVID-19 vaccine for kids

Nearly a million kids 5 through 11 have already had their first COVID-19 shot.

Dr. Lee Savio Beers, President of the American Academy of Pediatrics, says this is a big moment for families.

"First of all, I think we're just so grateful that we have a vaccine for kids 5 through 11," Savio Beers says. 

"And, I understand, parents are going to have questions."

So Dr. Beers agreed to answer some common questions parents are asking pediatricians right now.

"One of the most common questions we get is, 'Why should I get my child vaccinated against COVID?' Beers says,  "And I remind families that, even though children are less at risk from COVID than adults, they still can get very sick.  And, if fact, COVID is one of the top 10 leading causes of death this year in children.  So, that 's not insignificant."

The pandemic vaccines were developed at record speed, which makes some parents uneasy.

"The other question (we get) is, "Was this rushed?  Did it go through too quickly?" Dr. Beers says. "And, I remind parents or try to tell them is that the science behind these vaccines has been under development for decades. And, the process for approval for the vaccine went through the exact same steps that every vaccine does."

The Pfizer pediatric vaccine is a lower-dose shot, with children receiving a third the dose teens and adults 12 and older receive.

So, what kinds of side effects should parents expect in younger children?

"The most common side effects that you will see after the vaccine are some of the side effects seen with all vaccines,"  Dr. Beers says. "So, sore arm, achiness, fatigue, maybe a low grade fever.  Those things tend to go away usually within a couple of days."

There have also been rare reports of myocarditis, or an inflammation of the heart muscle, in teens and adults, associated with the Pfizer BioNTech and Moderna messenger RNA vaccines.

"I think it's a really important thing for parents to know about," Beers says  "This is a very rare association with the vaccines that are authorized for children and adolescents."

Myocarditis is typically triggered by a viral infection, but can also be cause by bacteria, fungus or a parasite.

"It has been associated with the vaccine most common in young men and most commonly after the second shot," says.  "It can be a very mild thing, and it can be a very serious thing.  But, where we see it after the vaccine, it is almost always very mild, and kids do, people get better pretty quickly afterwards. We take it very seriously, but people do get better."

Beers says a COVID-19 infection can also trigger myocarditis.

"That happens much more commonly, and can be much more serious," she says.

So far, Dr. Beers says, they have not have reports of myocarditis in younger children who have received the pediatric vaccine.

"But, it's a very rare side effect," she says.  "So we're going to continue to watch that very carefully.  But, to date, we have not seen any cases of myocarditis in children from ages 5 to 11 after the vaccine."

She recommends getting your child vaccine, even if he or she has already had the virus.

"There's a couple of reasons (for this)," she says.  "First, we know it's safe to do. It's very safe to give the vaccine after you've had a COVID infection.  The other thing is it does provide better protection. What we know about the immunity that happens after you've been infected with COVID is that it's just not predictable."

The immunity that the body develops after the vaccine, Dr. Beers says, is longer-lasting and more predictable.

"So, the vaccine can help ensure that you really are protected against a serious illness," she says.

If you have questions, Beers recommends reaching out to your child's pediatrician or family doctor. 

She also recommends the AAP's website for parents, and, a website created by the Ad Council and the COVID Collaborative with the involvement of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).