As a parent, you do the best you can to protect your child from anything that can harm them and teach them how to stay healthy. Masks. Social distancing. Washing hands for 20 seconds. Sanitizing… everything. Those have been the tried-and-true tools provided to parents to protect their younger children from contracting the COVID-19 virus… until now.
The F.D.A. has now approved the COVID-19 vaccine by Pfizer-BioNTech for use in children ages 5 to 11 years old. This means that parents now have another tool in their COVID-safety toolbelt to help their children fight the virus.
Even with approval, it’s normal for parents to still be anxious about the idea of giving their child something new. The best way to address those fears is to be equipped with factual information. Dr. Rebecca Wallace, clinical pediatric psychologist at Children's Hospital New Orleans and founding member of LCMC Health, talks about the potential impacts of COVID-19 in young children and how to talk to them about the vaccine.
Should my child get the vaccine?
Data from the American Academy of Pediatrics shows that COVID-19 cases among children peaked last month, as many schools opened for in-person classes amid the country’s delta variant surge. While young children made up a very small portion of COVID-19 deaths, September had the most new cases and deaths for kids.
“The past four months have shown just how harmful COVID-19 can be to small children, even those who were previously healthy. It has also shown us that this vaccine works at all ages to prevent illness in some and lessen symptoms in others. While mild and annoying side effects are possible as with any medication or vaccine, the risk of the side effects of COVID-19 infection are higher and more significant,” said Wallace. “If your child gets COVID-19, they could be lucky, get a mild case, and bounce back fine or they could have terrible outcomes. We do have evidence and facts that show the vaccine works and helps improve outcomes,” said Wallace.
“COVID-19 vaccines, just like MMR, tetanus, chicken pox vaccines, are designed to fight illness by helping the body build antibodies. Like the other vaccines, the COVID-19 vaccine has been studied extensively and deemed effective and safe. Adults began receiving the vaccine earlier this year, and an overwhelming majority had minimal to mild side effects. For those who caught COVID-19, the symptoms were less severe.”
How do I talk to my child about the vaccine?
Vaccines are created to prevent diseases. If everyone gets the vaccine, then our bodies can work together and protect us all. To help your child understand their role in helping keep themselves and others healthy, Wallace suggests to try these methods:
- Be their interpreter. You are the interpreter of this information for your kids much like how you might need a French interpreter if you were in Paris. Explain that we take medicine when we are sick to help our body fight what is making us sick. Vaccines are special medicine that we take when we are healthy to help our bodies become stronger and more prepared so that we do not get sick in the first place. If we do get sick, our bodies have the fighters needed so that we get better quicker. Help them understand and look for the facts, statements and experiences that are not based on emotion. Let them ask questions. Talk to them about what they have seen and heard in a calm manner, pointing out the truths. Play detective with them. Look up medical websites or talk to doctors together (based on what is age appropriate).
- Stay calm and neutral. If you do not like shots and are worried and stressed about it, your child will be as well. Model taking deep breaths, doing things that keep you calm and talk about the experience in a fact-based manner. Let them know if you got it and what your experience was, especially if it was good. Reassure them that as a parent, you always have their best interest at heart and want to use everything available to you to keep them healthy.
- Make it a fun experience. We know that getting a shot is not a fun thing to do; however, you can help make the experience better by going to get ice cream, going to the park or making a special dinner after. You can also help your child come up with some fun ways to distract themselves during the shot. Things that work well include sucking on favorite hard candy, telling jokes, listening to favorite songs and squeezing a stuffed animal.
What if I’m still on the fence?
First, remember that medical providers are in the business to make people better… not worse. In fact, they took a pledge to “do no harm” when they entered the medical field. There is absolutely no benefit for them to lie or bring harm to you or your child.
“Medical professionals want COVID-19 to go away more than anyone else. It’s okay to be nervous and have questions, that is a sign of being a great parent and you are having to make big decisions for another person. At the end of the day, all you can do is make the decision you think is best with the information you have,” said Wallace.
Wallace suggests researching using medical websites like the CDC, kidshealth.org, unicef.org, Mayo Clinic, and talk to your child’s doctor at Children’s Hospital New Orleans.
At this time, the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine is currently approved for use in adults, and the federal government has authorized it for emergency use in children ages 12 to 17. When approved for ages 5 to 11, the vaccine will be available at more than 25,000 pediatricians' offices and primary care sites and 100 children's hospital systems, including the Children’s Hospital New Orleans.