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Why vaccinating children could be a game changer in the battle against COVID-19

Genuine Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine vial hold in hand with syringe and child sitting with rolled up sleeve on the blurred background. Editorial illustrative. Stafford, United Kingdom, March 31, 2021.
Genuine Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine vial hold in hand with syringe and child sitting with rolled up sleeve on the blurred background. Editorial illustrative. Stafford, United Kingdom, March 31, 2021.

KERA’s Sam Baker talks with Dr. Erin Carlson, director of graduate public health programs at the University of Texas at Arlington.


Children and transmission of COVID-19

The data show that children and particularly adolescents really play a significant role in curbing transmission.

The concerns about transmission by children and adolescents really have grown as these new variants have emerged. So it's possible that more transmissible variants are on the horizon and that those future variants may find a way to push through whatever it is in a young person's immune system that seems to so far make them more resistant to COVID infection.

Once it learns to push through that, then it's going to make it so much more important that our kids have been vaccinated so they won't succumb to those new variants.

Severity of COVID-19 in children

So far, there seems to be much less virulence, much less severe disease in children. Now that's, of course, not true across the board. We have had a significant spike in pediatric hospital admissions for COVID, but typically kids have thankfully been a bit less affected by this with regard to the severity of disease than adults.

How do kids get coronavirus and COVID-19?

We don't know. It could be from other children. It could be from adults. Viruses are smart. They are able to find hosts with remarkable efficiency that could be from other kids. It could be from other adults. The virus doesn't really care. The virus just needs a host.

Is the availability of a pediatric vaccine a game-changer?

It's a game-changer in a variety of ways.

  • First of all, for children's health care, pediatric ICUs have fewer beds than other ICUs. So a rise in pediatric COVID hospitalizations has a huge impact on access to health care for kids with any other health condition.

  1. Second, getting a COVID-19 vaccine allows kids to start doing things they may not have been able to do because of the pandemic.

  1. Also, if we can slow transmission through vaccination, we can really safeguard many levels within our community. Not only our kids, but we safeguard others in the house to whom the child may have been able to transmit COVID had they not been vaccinated, particularly people with underlying health conditions, who are at higher risk for severe disease.

  1. Then finally, with the winter holidays coming up, if children start receiving their first dose now, they could be fully vaccinated in time for winter holidays, in time for Christmas. A grandparent will be able to get a hug from their 5-year-old grandchild with much less fear of disease transmission.

But parents still wonder if the vaccine's safe

The bottom line is that getting COVID - 19 is much riskier than getting the vaccine. Kids can get long COVID or damage to their heart and lungs and other organs from having had COVID - 19. So we know the risk is there and we know that a vaccine with 91 % efficacy can really reduce the risk of severe disease for kids.

What about the risk of myocarditis?

Inflammation of the lining of the heart is something that parents have been concerned about, and we understand that there is a very small risk from the COVID - 19 vaccine, particularly in young male adolescents. But this is a very small risk.

The risk of myocarditis from COVID outweighs the risk of myocarditis from the vaccine. If myocarditis is a concern, and maybe because the child does have maybe a heart condition, then the vaccine is a much-needed intervention to prevent that child from having other potential heart complications should they contract COVID - 19.

This has been lightly edited for clarity.


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Got a tip? Email Sam Baker at sbaker@kera.org. You can follow Sam on Twitter @srbkera.

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Copyright 2021 KERA. To see more, visit KERA.

Sam Baker is KERA's senior editor and local host for Morning Edition. The native of Beaumont, Texas, also edits and produces radio commentaries and Vital Signs, a series that's part of the station's Breakthroughs initiative. He also was the longtime host of KERA 13’s Emmy Award-winning public affairs program On the Record. He also won an Emmy in 2008 for KERA’s Sharing the Power: A Voter’s Voice Special, and has earned honors from the Associated Press and the Public Radio News Directors Inc.