COVID-19 vaccines are now available for children 5-11 years old, and the government will begin the rollout Feb. 4. Based on conversations in parents’ groups online, we’ve observed that they are divided into four groups.
Some parents will be among the first to fall in line for their children. The second group will hold out for as long as they can, to wait for more studies to come out. The third group will skip the vaccine altogether—but worry that their children will be excluded from activities such as in-person classes. The fourth will wait for another vaccine option besides the mRNA.
Dr. Benjamin Co, chief of the Infectious Diseases Division of Pediatrics at the University of Santo Tomas Hospital, told Lifestyle that vaccination sites should prepare for a completely different environment and reactions for this age group.
“Twelve-year-old children can sit on the chair on their own. The 5-year-olds will scream, cry and resist the injection. They will need someone to accompany them. It’s going to be different,” he said.
Parents play a big role in the vaccination rollout, but it goes beyond holding their child in place during the injection. They also have to make a decision on behalf of their children. Therefore, it is up to the parents to learn about the vaccines and make an informed choice.
Give advice and guidance only
Co is also against putting the weight of the decision on pediatricians. He said pediatricians can only give advice and guide them. They can consult if they are hesitating, but the decision lies with the parents.
“This vaccine is not something your pediatrician can give a green light to. It is something that parents should decide on by themselves,” said Co.
It is the same sentiment that Lifestyle columnist and cardiologist Dr. Rafael Castillo told the viewers of the webinar “Safety and side effects of vaccinating your kids from COVID-19,” hosted by Inquirer Lifestyle on Dec. 3.
“Let it be a free choice of thinking parents, parents who have done their job well. It is our privilege that we have access to a widely circulated publication. It is our duty, our responsibility to make sure that they get the right information, so that they don’t get the information from the neighbor or from chat groups,” Castillo said.
One of the first things that Co wants parents to understand is that the COVID-19 vaccines available for both adults and children are not transmission blockers. He stressed that you can still contract COVID despite being fully vaccinated. What vaccines can do is prevent hospitalization or developing severe symptoms.
Co said he saw more children getting sick with COVID during the Omicron surge. The cases are still very mild, he noted.
Dr. Caroline Aquino, a pediatric allergologist at Makati Medical Center and chair of the Allergy Club of the Philippine Society of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, said in the same webinar that this is because COVID keeps mutating and doing its best to survive.
She added, “Most of them have a mild infection, but not everyone really recovers from COVID. In fact, in the US, the reason they pushed vaccination for the age 5-11 group was because the kids are going back to school. They are eventually getting sick and being admitted to hospitals.”
Aquino said, “I believe that the benefits of vaccination are still better because we are able to give our children a chance to live normally.”
Is it safe?
Another concern that parents have is if their child has allergies, say, to seafood or shellfish.
“All of these are not found in the vaccines, so yes, they are safe,” Aquino said.
This is one of the questions that parents can pose to their pediatricians—what if your child has a preexisting condition, like asthma?
Co also said that vaccines will prevent children from having complications brought about by COVID. He is particularly concerned about the so-called Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children or (MIS-C), which causes inflammation throughout the body. Co said a healthy child with no comorbidity could develop MIS-C after COVID.
Co also acknowledged the fear of parents about their children developing myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle) or pericarditis (inflammation of the heart’s outer lining) after an mRNA vaccine.
US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stated on their website that this usually occurs in male adolescents after being administered mRNA vaccines such as Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna. However, the website also reported that most patients developing these responded well to medication.
“I have patients I treat for the Kawasaki disease asking me the same questions. They don’t want mRNA because of the cardiovascular risk,” he said.
This is why Co said Sinovac-CoronaVac is a possible alternative to mRNA. The vaccine is being administered to 3-year-olds and older in other countries. He added that it can also be a solution to how to use up our Sinovac.
Sinovac is an inactivated vaccine like the flu vaccine. It is much safer in children compared to mRNA, Co noted.
He said it is not as effective as mRNA, but if efficacy is the the goal, it will do. Children can afford to choose a safer vaccine because they are less likely to develop severe symptoms.
When asked when is the best time for children to get vaccinated, Co said, “If you are ready, and your child didn’t have COVID for the past month, go ahead. Line up as soon as it is available to you.
“However, if your child tested positive, say, two weeks ago, let his or her body rest and recuperate first for at least a month. Anyway, your child will still have natural antibodies against COVID.”
This break will allow you to observe your child if he or she develops MIS-C, Co said. This will avoid mistakenly attributing the COVID complication to a vaccine side effect.
Co, however, said more than the children, it is more important to prioritize vaccinating adults first, especially those in the provinces.
“If adults don’t get COVID, then the children won’t get COVID,” he said. INQ
To help you make an informed choice for your young children, watch Lifestyle’s “Safety and side effects of vaccinating your kids from Covid-19” webinar on Inquirer.net’s Facebook page: fb.watch/aTbq9EiwTQ.