What kids are eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine? Here’s what parents should know

With Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s announcement that Arkansans age 16 and older are now eligible to receive COVID-19 vaccinations came other hopeful news from Pfizer.

According to kids news agency, The company reported Wednesday that its COVID-19 vaccine is safe and strongly protective in kids as young as 12, a step toward possibly beginning shots in that age group before kids head back to school in the fall.

Parents may be wondering if they should vaccinate their teenagers and what kind of risk is involved. Dr. Jessica Snowden is the chief of pediatric infectious disease at Arkansas Children’s Hospital in Little Rock. She’s seen firsthand just how horrific coronavirus can be in kids.

“If your kid is the one who gets COVID, it’s terrifying,” Snowden said. “We’re hoping to get as many people protected as possible.”

Snowden is encouraging all eligible teenage Arkansans to get the vaccine as soon as possible.

“Teenagers in particular tend to act more like adults, as opposed to younger kids,” she said. “So they can get more severe disease. They work in our grocery stores, they work in our restaurants, they work out in the public and interact with a lot of people and are definitely at risk for getting COVID infection.”

Snowden said the vaccines go through intense trials before they’re approved to ensure safety and efficacy. They’re tested on thousands of people from various age groups, racial backgrounds and ethnicities from all over the nation before going through even more scrutiny from experts at the FDA and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. What they’ve learned is that the vaccine is just as effective in 16-year-olds as it is in adults. They’ve not only had more than six months in clinical trials, but Snowden said they’ve also seen how people are reacting in the real world.

“We’ve been able to find out that, not only do they not get sick, we can tell it also helps with the asymptomatic infection, and it seems to help with your ability to spread to other people,” Snowden said. “In real world use, millions of people, it looks just as effective and just as safe as we saw in the clinical trials.”

Snowden said the side effects found in kids are the same as the mostly mild reactions experienced by adults. A major concern of parents and women in their child-bearing years is based on rumors that the vaccine can cause infertility. Snowden said there is no evidence of any impact on future fertility or on pregnancy.

“Were I pregnant or intending to get pregnant, I would absolutely have no qualms about getting vaccinated, particularly since we know that people who are pregnant are actually at higher risk of severe COVID infections,” Snowden said.

She said the vaccine is only active in the arm, and the material in the mRNA vaccines do not actually leave the muscles of your arm, meaning it won’t go anywhere near reproductive organs.

“In fact, we got awesome news the other day of the first baby … it was born to a mom who got vaccinated during pregnancy, and the baby was born with antibodies, so we can even protect the baby,” Snowden said.

Snowden encourages anyone with concerns to talk to their physicians or providers, or reach out to Arkansas Children’s Hospital. She said there is no concern for how the vaccine will impact people later in life.

“What we know from decades and decades of vaccine work is that most of the side effects that we see related to vaccination occur in the first short period after the vaccine in the first six weeks or so,” Snowden said.

Knowing there are still limited treatment options for COVID-19, and seeing the long-term effects people are experiencing, Snowden said if she could vaccinate her 9-year-old child, she would.

“If I could protect my child from that in any way, shape or form, I would absolutely do it,” Snowden said.

The Pfizer vaccine is currently the only vaccine approved for those age 16 and older, but they’re moving closer to approval for kids 12 to 15 years old. The company reports 100 percent efficacy in children in that age group.

The kids were tested in a placebo-controlled trial of 2,260 children and the company said no one who received the actual vaccine developed COVID-19. Eighteen participants who received the placebo instead of the actual vaccine did develop COVID-19. The trial used “the same dose and the same schedule that we do in adults” and ” the same protocol in terms of monitoring for safety and everything else,” Snowden said.

Snowden said the vaccine could be approved for that age group by the next school year. Although younger children tend to bounce back from the virus, Snowden highly recommends that children from 12 to 15 years old get the vaccine when it becomes available.

“One of the things that we’ve found is that these exposures can really disrupt the normal day-to-day life of classrooms,” she said. “What they’re reporting so far is that the kids who were 12 to 16 acted just like the 16 to 25-year-olds, which was that they had fever and aches and felt bad for, you know, about 24 hours. And then they were better.”

Pfizer’s clinical trial on 12 to 15-year-olds still needs to be reviewed by the FDA and CDC. Snowden said health experts from Arkansas serve on those panels. Dr. Jeanette Lee at UAMS Medical Center represents Arkansas on the FDA review panel and sate Secretary of Health Dr. Jose Romero is the chair of the CDC’s committee.

“We have a lot of people who understand Arkansans and what’s important to us, who are helping review and make sure this is safe for all of us,” Snowden said.

Pfizer also launched a vaccine trial for ages 6 months to 11 years old last week. Moderna is also enrolling that age group for their own clinical trial.

“We will continue to take what we know about vaccines, and adults and now down to 12-year-olds, and continue to march downwards so that we can protect everyone from this as soon as we possibly can,” Snowden said.