Based on data from Metro Manila hospitals dated March to Nov. 7, nine out of 10 people who died from COVID-19 were unvaccinated.
“In deciding to vaccinate children against COVID-19, the benefits outweigh the risks,” said Dr. Carmenchu Echiverri Villavicencio, in a webinar hosted by Kid’s First Discovery Space Preschool.
Villavicencio is the head of infectious diseases department and chair of infection control at St. Luke’s Medical Center-Global City.
So far, Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have been approved to be administered to children. Although kids are more unlikely to get very sick with COVID-19, they can still be infected with the virus, get severely sick from it, have both short- and long-term health complications from COVID-19 and even spread it to others.
“Vaccines change your body to get prepared for when you’re exposed to the infection,” Villavicencio explained. She shared a YouTube clip that she encouraged parents to watch with their children. It showed how Messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines work like invisible coaches to train the immune system to spot the virus.
Ventilation, ventilation, ventilation
She presented The Swiss Cheese Model, which outlined our responsibilities: personal (maintaining physical distance, wearing masks except for children ages 0-2, staying home if sick, hand hygiene, cough etiquette and avoiding touching one’s face); and shared (limit time in crowded places, fast and sensitive testing and tracing, government messaging and financial support, ventilation, quarantine and isolation, vaccines).
“We’re all mama bears. We want to make sure our children are safe all the time,” said the mom of three. She hasn’t brought her own kids to enclosed spaces with people not from her household. “Outdoors lang, kasi we cannot control everybody and how they adhere to safety practices. Our kids are too precious to risk it.”
Villavicencio said that while we are experiencing a drop in COVID cases, emerging new variants can change things in a matter of days.
“Children with comorbidities are prioritized because they can get severe COVID,” she said.
Serious side effects after COVID-19 vaccination are rare. Myocarditis (inflammation of the heart) and pericarditis (inflammation of the outer lining of the heart) have occurred in 54 cases per million doses in male children ages 12-17. It happens predominantly in males 12-29 years old, within a week of getting the second dose, most of whom were hospitalized briefly with most acute symptoms resolved.
Villavicencio stressed that the risk of myocarditis or pericarditis associated with SARS-CoV-2 virus is greater than the risk of getting the same after receipt of an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine in both teens and adults.
Severe allergic reactions can occur, which can also happen with any other vaccine. She clarified that children cannot get COVID-19 from any COVID-19 vaccine and there’s no proof that it causes fertility issues.
What we do know is that children who get COVID-19 can die. They can also get Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome (MIS-C), a delayed immune response from COVID-19 six weeks after exposure.
How can parents help jittery kids get vaccinated? Villavicencio shared tips to prepare for V-Day:
Before: It is not recommended to give pain relievers beforehand. Inform the nurse of any allergies your child has. Read about the vaccine your children are getting, be ready to support them and be honest that it can hurt but not for long.
“Don’t scare them, saying if they do something that displeases you, ‘sige, i-injection-an kita.’ That’s a common complaint of pediatricians,” she said.
During: Distract and comfort. Smile and assure them that everything will be okay. Support them if they cry and never scold them for not “being brave.” Some teens have reportedly fainted, so to prevent any injuries, be ready to physically support them for 15 minutes after.
After: Be prepared for any side effects. Pain, redness and swelling at the jab site is normal, so are tiredness, headache, muscle pain, chills, fever and nausea. It is normal to have no appetite for a day after vaccination but offer lots of fluids. Give them extra attention. If you observe anything of concern, call your pediatrician.
Can kids get vaccinated at the same time as their annual immunizations? “Yes, there are no contraindications,” said Villavicencio. “Prioritize the COVID vaccine. Discuss it with your pedia.”
Will it be like a flu shot we get annually? “Influenza evolves very quickly with different strains,” she explained. “With COVID-19, there are many unknowns. At the moment, there is no press release yet about it being a yearly thing.”
She emphasized that infection control begins at home. “Teach your children how to do proper hand hygiene to ensure all surfaces are clean. Establish cough etiquette as a form of respect to others as well. Remind them often not to touch their faces. We need to make all of this a habit as we transition back to face-to-face schooling.”
For now, Villavicencio advised, “Make time for exploring nature with your children. Have small playdates. But let’s not rush in-person gatherings if it’s not yet appropriate.”