Parents: Questions about COVID vaccines and kids
Updated: Nov 24, 2021
Parents will soon have to decide whether to take their 5- to 11-year-old children for
COVID-19 vaccination. No one can tell you the short- or long-term safety of these vaccines in children, since little evidence exists yet. Here are a few things to consider in your decision.
1. What is an mRNA vaccine? The Pfizer and Moderna injections use mRNA biotechnology. This is the first time it has been used in vaccines ever. It does not work like any of the previous childhood vaccines, which inject a killed or inactivated virus so that a child’s immune system can produce antibodies and remember it in future. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines send messenger RNA to your cells, instructing them to produce viral proteins (spike proteins). These spikes are normally found on the surface of the coronavirus, and post-vaccination they appear on the surface of some of your cells. The immune system then attacks and destroys those cells, and produces antibodies.
2. How will COVID vaccines protect my child? In adults, the shots reduce hospitalization and death. They do not block infection or transmission (passing the virus to someone else). In children, we don’t really know because it was tested on about 1,500 children and the risk of severe disease, hospitalization and death is so much lower than 1/1,500 for children that it could not be evaluated.* Pfizer measured the results of its clinical trial on children by showing that those vaccinated produced antibodies. (*CDC: Rate of hospitalization for 5-11 yr. olds: 0 to 1 per 100,000 weekly.)
3. How long will the effects of the COVID shot last in a child? No one knows, because the trials of children lasted only two months. In adults, the effects seem to fade after several months. Adults are now being offered boosters.
4. Does my child need a COVID vaccine? For healthy children, the risk of serious disease or death from COVID infection is extremely low. However, there are some comorbidities – other medical conditions – that seem to put people at greater risk from COVID. These include being immunocompromised, for example from a rare congenital disease like SCID or from long-term steroid use or cancer treatment. Other risk factors include diabetes and severe obesity. (More on risk factors.)
The content on this website is intended for general informational purposes only. Consult with a trusted health professional when making healthcare decisions.
5. What vaccine side effects could my child have? The Pfizer trial on 5- to 11-year-olds injected about 1,500 children with the mRNA vaccine. That sample was too small to show side effects like heart inflammation (myocarditis) or Guillain-Barré syndrome. A member of the FDA’s advisory committee said when debating emergency authorization of the Pfizer vaccine for this age group: “But we’re never going to learn about how safe this vaccine is unless we start giving it. That’s just the way it goes.” (He voted for its emergency authorization, saying some children might need it and it should be a “personal choice”.)
In Canadians over 12 who are vaccinated so far, over 22,200 adverse events have been reported, including over 5,650 serious adverse events. The serious events included: myocarditis, Bell’s Palsy (facial paralysis), Guillain-Barré syndrome (autoimmune disorder that damages the nerves, causing muscle weakness/paralysis), thrombocytopenia, thrombosis, stroke, pulmonary embolism, and others.
The Public Health Agency of Canada reports that the rate of all adverse events is three times higher in females, for a rate of 55 events per 100,000 doses, in other words 110 events per 100,000 women vaccinated – a rate of over 1 in 1,000. The reporting rate was lower in 12- to 17-year-olds than in adults.
6. What is the rate of myocarditis (heart inflammation) after mRNA vaccines? Here’s what we know from tracking of this side effect in teens and young people.
Myocarditis is inflammation of the heart muscle itself, and pericarditis is inflammation of the sac around the heart. Myocarditis often requires a short hospital stay. Rarely, it can lead to ICU admission or sudden death. When caught, it can be treated with anti-inflammatories or steroids, and patients are often required not to exercise for three to six months. (Mayo Clinic info.)
Pfizer recently told the FDA that their mRNA vaccine study on 5- to 11-year-olds is "too small to detect any potential risks of myocarditis associated with vaccination" and that they will study the risks "post-authorization", including a 5-year study "to evaluate long term sequelae."
Israel first identified this adverse effect of the Pfizer vaccine and said the rate in its young men was between 1 in 3,000 and 1 in 6,000. This side effect occurs in young women too, but at a much lower rate. The data from Ontario shows the highest rate was 300 per million, or about 1 in 3,300:
This data goes to September 4, 2021 and is likely underreported. The UK advisory committee said the long-term effect of the post-vaccination cases is uncertain and should be monitored: while myocarditis following vaccination is “typically self-limiting and resolves within a short time. . .the medium to long-term (months to years) prognosis, including the possibility of persistence of tissue damage resulting from inflammation, is currently uncertain as sufficient follow-up time has not yet occurred.”
7. Could there be long-term adverse effects that will not appear for years? No one knows. Researchers have raised questions in published research about: the spike proteins interfering with DNA repair in cells; antibody dependent enhancement (ADE), a phenomenon seen in other vaccines and in animal experiments where after a period of time, disease caused by the virus is worse in vaccinated than unvaccinated individuals; and effects on cardiovascular health.
8. Don’t we need to vaccinate children to get to ‘herd immunity’? Epidemiologists say that herd immunity is no longer a possibility for COVID-19. The Delta variant is more transmissible, and vaccines do not block transmission nor produce lasting immunity from the coronavirus. The head of the Oxford Vaccine Group said in August that herd immunity is “mythical,” and the CDC now says it is not the goal.
9. Will children having a COVID shot protect others who are more at risk from the virus? The first question is, is it ethically right to expose children to risk to protect others from a disease?
New evidence suggests that COVID vaccines do little to stop transmission of the Delta variant; and there will always be new variants. Besides, if your child interacts with a teacher, parent or grandparent at risk, that adult can be vaccinated to protect themselves.
Here are some expert opinions that do not support vaccinating healthy children for COVID:
UK's Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization position on 12 to 15 year olds
NEW: Protecting our children from COVID-19 vaccines https://www.canadiancovidcarealliance.org/media-resources/protecting-our-children-from-covid-19-vaccines/
Canadian Covid Care Alliance guide for parents
COVID-19 vaccination in children – major ethical concerns (UK)
Think Twice Before Giving the COVID Vax to Healthy Kids
Dr. Marty Makary, MD, MPH (Prof. of Surgery, John Hopkins Medicine) (opinion)
CDC's All-or-Nothing Approach to Teen COVID Vaccination Is All Wrong by Vinay Prasad, MD, MPH, Ramin Farzaneh-Far, MD, Wes Pegden, PhD, Venk Murthy, MD, PhD, Amy Beck, MD, MPH (opinion)
MD argues against school mandates for COVID vaccines (opinion)
Medical Evidence - Front Line COVID-19 Critical Care Alliance Prevention & Treatment Protocols for COVID-19 - https://covid19criticalcare.com/covid-19-protocols/medical-evidence-and-optional-medicines/
Hart Group: COVID evidence assessed by UK doctors, scientists and academics. https://www.hartgroup.org/
Covid19 vaccination in children: evidence, ethics, and equity – The BMJ Journal https://youtu.be/y6l9w3TIpyM
Dr. John Campbell (UK) on YouTube (new analysis daily) https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCF9IOB2TExg3QIBupFtBDxg
This page was reviewed by public health professionals, including a physician and MHSc.