After the CDC recommended children ages 4 and under receive a COVID vaccination, South Florida parents (like many) are wondering whether or not to take their children to get a dose in the near future.
In response to the onslaught of questions and curiosity, Infectious Disease Specialist Dr. Aileen M. Marty shares her expertise on the subject and encourages parents to make an informed decision regarding their children's safety.
Why even consider vaccinating a child so young?
Many parents' first reaction to the change in CDC protocol is: why would my child even need a vaccine? If my kid is not immunocompromised, aren't they extremely unlikely to be negatively affected by the virus?
While this is a very common line of reasoning, it is actually a misconception about COVID that children are not at risk.
"Of the thirteen million children that have had COVID and the ones that have been hospitalized, the vast majority were perfectly healthy kids," Dr. Marty said. "They had no underlying conditions and yet they ended up in the hospital and some of them ended up in the ICU."
Even more specifically, Dr. Marty explains that the newest CDC recommendations are relevant as they are based on actual fatalities in this age range.
"If we limit it to the six months to the four year old's, we had 400 deaths, mostly previously completely healthy children," she said.
Furthermore, it is explained that children can also suffer long term side effects from the virus, an occurrence that can be avoided with vaccination.
"These children need to be protected [from death] but also because they also get long COVID and some get multi-system inflammatory disease," Dr. Marty said.
"The children need this protection, and [the vaccine] is a very safe way of giving them that protection."
Is it guaranteed that this vaccine is safe for small children?
While there has been much controversy over whether vaccinating such small children will benefit or harm them, Dr. Marty assures that this recommendation was not made blindly.
"The advisory group for the FDA and the advisory group for the CDC is composed of physicians, immunologist, scientist that study and understand how viruses cause disease," she said. "They understand the epidemiology of these disease, and then they compare what we know about what can happen in a child's body from getting the SARS cov-2 virus to what could happen in a child's body, both beneficial or possible harm. from getting a tiny little piece of that virus child—just enough to educate the immune system."
After testing and deliberation regarding the effects the vaccine could have on small children, it was deemed that kids would benefit from the doses, not be negatively affected by them.
"When they made those comparisons and saw the real world live data of what had happened when the children were vaccinated and how beautifully they were protected against the harmful effects of this horrible virus, it was patently obvious that they should approve," Dr. Marty said.
Who should get the vaccine? How young is too young?
Many parents with children in the 6 months-4 year old age gap are currently wondering whether they should wait a few months or years to vaccinate. In Dr. Marty's opinion, there is more risk than benefit in this decision.
"There's no question that it benefits that child enormously to be vaccinated against this horrible virus," she said. "It starts their protection, nice and early."
Even more so, children becoming vaccinated increases the safety of the entire family.
"Ultimately, it's not only good for the child, it's good for the family of their child, because that's one less member of the household that can get sick, that can end up in the hospital that can infect other members of the household that might be an even more susceptible for severe disease," Dr. Marty said. "When anyone in one household is ill, it affects the entire functioning of that family unit."
Dr. Marty encourages parents to vaccinate even their youngest children to protect the quality of everyday life and lessen the hold the pandemic has had on families all across the world.
"Being able to go to work, being able to go to school, all these spin off effects that we can completely put to a halt," she said. "We can get those kids this kids can be in school with greater safety, less risk of this infection. It really makes a huge difference for lifestyle for the child and for the family and for the community."
How do I know which vaccine to choose for my child?
As far as choosing which vaccine a child will receive, Dr. Marty assures parents that either of the approved doses are excellent and safe options.
"The [vaccines] that we have selected for these children, being Moderna and Pfizer, are among the very very best—safest and efficacious," she said. "I strongly advocate for their use."
Dr. Marty explains that Moderna, a 2 side vaccine, has about a 50% efficacy while Pfizer, a 3 dose vaccine, has about an 80% efficacy.
This, she says, should not discourage parents from choosing Moderna as it is predicted that they will become approved for a third dose in the near future which will push their efficacy higher than the competitor's.
While Dr. Marty is confident that Moderna will be the most effective vaccine by the time children are administered all three doses, she said that the current data points towards Pfizer being the better option. Regardless, either vaccine offers shield from contracting the virus and its negative consequences.
"Either of these vaccines is going to give your child excellent protection against all these bad side effects, so take the vaccine that's available to you," Dr. Marty said.
When and where will vaccines become available in South Florida?
While there was much confusion over when vaccines will become available following the news that Florida was the only state to not pre-order doses, this does not mean there will be no access in the near future.
As Dr. Marty explains, the Governor's decision to hold off on ordering the vaccine did not hinder local pharmacies' ability to order for themselves.
"There may be a little bit of a delay in getting the shot at a pediatrician's office, but it is probably going to be even sooner that you can get a shot from a local pharmacy that has pre-ordered," she said.
Local pharmacies such as Walgreens and CVS that had pre-ordered, however, are already offering vaccine appointments for kids as young as 18 months.
"If [pharmacies] pre-ordered the vaccine, they should be able to start handing them out," Dr. Marty said.
While this information may have parents wondering whether it is better to rush to the nearest pharmacy and get the first dose that becomes available, Dr. Marty explains that there is more safety in waiting for pediatricians to receive the vaccines.
"It is always the best idea to get your child vaccinated by their pediatrician who knows the child and any allergies the child may have, any back history," she said.
Local hospitals such as Niklaus Children's Hospital and Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital assure that as soon as they receive doses, they will begin offering vaccination for young children. Children 6-18 months are not able to become vaccinated by local pharmacies, so will need to wait for doctors offices to receive doses.
For more detailed information on when and where vaccines will become available, please see here.