Q: What are the long-term risks of getting the coronavirus vaccine?
Mezoff: There have been no known long-term side effects of the COVID vaccine — in fact, especially in the 5 to 11 age group. The side effects are actually mild in most adults getting their shots. I can tell you having given over 2,000 shots at Dayton Children’s, there have been no severe reactions. There have literally been billions of doses of COVID vaccines given throughout the world. There have been hundreds of millions in this country. And to date there are no known long-term side effects or complications.
Patterson: You know, a lot of times people are asking that question for their kids for the next 10 or 20 years. And I think that that question needs to be appreciated. And the only context we have is the history of vaccines. And when you look backward in the history of vaccines, none of the vaccines that are readily accepted day in and day out have proven to have adverse side effects 20 and 30 and 40 years down the road. I’ve been fortunate enough to see disease from several illnesses go away because of vaccines, meaning I took care of kids who had those illnesses before we started vaccinating against pneumococcus, Haemophilus influenzae type B, and chickenpox. And I’ve seen the complications from chickenpox. The kids being left deaf after having meningitis or Haemophilus influenzae, the hospitalizations for weeks because of bone infections. I’ve seen that go away.
And the parents who benefited the most from those vaccines are the ones who are contemplating immunizing their kids right now. And so I asked them if they’re OK. Did that chickenpox vaccine do anything to you? Did that Haemophilus influenzae vaccine cause you to have problems now that you’re an adult?
Q: Holding on that point, how do you talk to parents about the newness of the vaccine and why do you feel confident that we have enough safety data?
Mezoff: Well, one of the points to raise is that the technology for this vaccine has been in the works for 20 years. It didn’t just crop up. I think part of that question is typically linked to, “But we got them so fast.” And what I remind folks is there are multiple reasons why that is. One of which is the government invested heavily upfront, as opposed to waiting until we can prove that it works. And the other reason is, there are very few things, medicines or vaccines we’ve tested, that have the entire world as the risk. So the entire world was at risk for this. So the ability to get people to volunteer to test these new vaccines was unlike anything we have ever seen before. So there’s all sorts of reasons why all these events helped get us a vaccine quicker. But having said that, mRNA technology has been in the making for literally 20 years. And so now that we have finally perfected it, again, knowing that there literally have been hundreds of millions of people already vaccinated and done well. That’s what gives me the confidence about the safety.
Q: A lot of kids have already had COVID-19, so many parents are wondering: Is natural immunity sufficient? Do they really need the shot?
Mezoff: At least with the adult data — and there’s not as much data in children — you are at least five times more likely to contract COVID-19 again if you have been previously infected then you are if you are vaccinated. So the answer is there is some immunity, but it’s been shown at least pretty clearly in the adult literature, that the protection from vaccination is far superior.
Lambes: In very severe cases, if you ended up in the ICU, your antibodies may stay at a fair level for three to four months, perhaps slightly longer. In much milder cases, they’re seeing it drop off very quickly, sometimes within a couple of months. Now, I don’t consider that to be safe. There have been plenty of cases where people have gotten it again within a month, within two months, within three months.
Patterson: An extension that I hear to that question is if my child has already had COVID, especially if the infection was an asymptomatic case, is it going to hurt them to get the vaccine? And the answer to that is no. It actually would probably help them. We know that people who have had the infection and get the vaccine have significant boost to their levels of antibodies.
Q: Are there any kids who should not get the vaccine? What if they have asthma or other health issues?
Mezoff: In fact, those are the people who most need to get the vaccine. So there are very few reasons not to be vaccinated. They primarily revolve around any allergies to specific ingredients. But when you list the conditions that may make you more likely to get severely affected by COVID, asthma is one of the top on the list. So those folks actually would hugely benefit from vaccination as opposed to avoiding vaccinations.
O’Neil: We treat thousands of kids with asthma every year. And with just the regular winter viruses that we have, kids with asthma often get sicker than children with no underlying lung issues. So if they’re getting sicker from normal viruses, the coronavirus is certainly a major impact to their lungs. Of course, they’re going to get sicker and put them in a lot more danger.
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