Children and the Covid Vaccine: What Parents Need to Know

“This is one of the better technologies if you’re worried about something staying in your child’s body,” said Dr. Ibukun C. Kalu, a professor of pediatrics at Duke University. “There’s no way it can become stored in the DNA or trigger some long term cascade that will impact a child’s reproductive organs.”

Another common worry among parents is the effect of a new drug or vaccine on brain development. Dr. Offit noted that the body has a blood-brain barrier that prevents most proteins from entering the brain. “Your brain is an immunologically protected site,” he said.

While children are less likely to develop severe illness from Covid-19, they are still at risk. Nearly four million children in the United States have tested positive for the virus since the start of the pandemic, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, and more than 300 have died. This past winter, doctors reported growing numbers of patients with Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children, or MIS-C, a condition linked to Covid which can affect multiple organs, including the heart.

Dr. Megan Ranney, an emergency room physician and professor at Brown University in Providence, R.I., said she had “zero safety concerns” about the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, noting that hundreds of millions of people worldwide had received it. Her 12-year-old daughter will get vaccinated, and her 9-year-old son will be immunized when he’s eligible, she said.

“The risk of your child catching Covid and getting really sick is low, but it’s not zero,” said Dr. Ranney. “And the risk of them getting sick or hospitalized or worse with Covid or with the post-Covid multi-inflammatory syndrome is higher than the risk of something bad from this vaccine.”

Currently about 24 percent of the Covid cases in the United States are in young children, said Dr. Offit. He notes that more American children have died from Covid during the pandemic than die annually from other illnesses for which children are regularly vaccinated. About 75 to 150 children in the United States die of flu each year, he said, and about 100 children die of chickenpox.

“If I had to convince a parent, I would bring them into the hospital with me and let them round on our Covid ward to see what this disease looks like,” said Dr. Offit. “There’s every reason to get them vaccinated. If I had a 12- to 15-year-old, I would vaccinate them in a minute.”

Additional reporting contributed by Apoorva Mandavilli, Abby Goodnough, Denise Grady, Melinda Wenner Moyer

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