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COVID Vaccine Guidance for Parents and Families

COVID Vaccine Guidance for Parents and Families

OU Health pediatrician Donna Tyungu, M.D., specializes in diagnosis and treatment of infectious diseases in children. With expertise in pediatric healthcare, and experience throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, she offers informed guidance from the perspective of a healthcare professional and parent.

To date, we haven’t seen severe illness, hospitalization and death related to COVID-19 affecting children like other age groups. Why should we vaccinate them?

The new variants of COVID-19 appear to be transmissible among all unvaccinated age groups, including children. We would like children to be vaccinated to prevent the consequences of natural infection, which could include prolonged illness, or “long COVID”, a term used to describe symptoms that continue or develop after COVID-19 infection, and to avoid occurrences of MIS-C (multi-system inflammatory syndrome in children found to be linked to infection with COVID-19). MIS-C is a potentially deadly condition more likely in children who had the virus.

MIS-C is still considered rare (estimated at 1 case in 1,000) and yet, at Oklahoma Children’s Hospital alone, we saw more than 80 cases during the year-long pandemic. We understand that the newer variants are much more transmissible, but we have yet to learn what that means for hospitalizations and morbidity in children.

Even though incidents of hospitalization and death are much lower in children, and symptoms are less severe, children are positioned to keep the pandemic cycle in motion, especially as we face new variants of the virus.

How long have COVID-19 vaccine trials for children been underway?

Moderna and Pfizer vaccine trials for children under the age of 12 began in late March and April. Two groups were monitored for two months. In the group of patients who were given placebos, (not vaccinated) there were 18 infections. No infections occurred in the group that received the vaccine. Trials for kids under age 12 are underway now. These trials will address questions related to dosing: what dosage is appropriate for an infant as compared to a 12-year-old or 18-year-old.

As a parent, how can I be assured the vaccine is safe?

Your concerns as a parent are understandable. Vaccines are developed to protect us from diseases and their

after-effects. Have these open discussions with your child’s pediatrician and your own primary care provider.

There are approximately 150 million fully vaccinated Americans enjoying the benefits of boosted immunity. Severe reactions or side-effects to date are statistically insignificant. The mRNA technology is new in its use against the coronavirus in humans. However, the technology has been used previously in other therapies such as cancer treatment. When compared to all other vaccines, there are very few ingredients - a tiny piece of mRNA and a lipid layer that protects mRNA until it gets into the body. That bit of mRNA is adequate to trigger the body’s immune response, and its job is done. It lacks the necessary components that would allow it to enter human DNA, making any chance of interaction impossible.

I’m concerned about possible long-term side effects of the COVID-19 vaccine. What are some of these side effects?

Though extremely rare, myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle) related to vaccination has been noted. Symptoms usually occur within four days and the condition is usually managed with a combination of prescription medications and possible life-style modifications. These incidents occurred mostly in males, are typically very mild, and are still under investigation.

What are the expected side effects?

Vaccine side effects in children typically mirror those in adults and may include

  • Pain or redness at the injection site
  • Mild fever or chills
  • Generalized body aches
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Nausea

What side effects should concern me if I notice them in my child?

  • Fever persisting more than 24 hours
  • Chest pain
  • Unusual rash or persistent redness or tenderness that is worse after 24 hours
  • Overwhelming fatigue over 24 hours
  • Any concerning side effects that do not resolve after a few days

What kids should not receive the vaccine?

  • Children who are allergic to any of the vaccine components should not be vaccinated.
  • Children who have previously had COVID-19 should wait 90 until receiving the vaccine.
  • If your child has a compromised immune system for any reason, discuss the benefits and possible disadvantages with your child’s specialist and pediatrician.

How is this vaccine similar to the childhood vaccines that have become expected and accepted as part of routine?

The research and development protocols are painstakingly meticulous. Although COVID-19 is new, coronaviruses are not.The way the vaccine works may be different – our current vaccines add new mRNA technology, which sounds scary but this technology has been used for decades. This research background is what made the rapid development of COVID-19 vaccines possible and available to the public. Other more traditional vaccinations introduce a weakened live virus into the body allowing the immune system a glimpse at the organism in this weakened form (for example, measles), which allows for a boosted immune response should you encounter the actual organism. The mRNA vaccines work in a similar way, except that the vaccine gives our bodies a tiny piece of the message to make proteins (spike proteins) instead of giving us these proteins directly as with traditional vaccines. Additionally, the research/approval processes have not changed, and are still extremely rigorous, including three phases of study – the same as for any other vaccine that has been developed.

Is this vaccine safe to give in conjunction with established childhood vaccines?

Study findings to date indicate no concerns related to any interactions.

As a physician who specializes in treating children, what else should parents know about COVID-19 and the vaccines?

Statistically, side effects related to the vaccine are preferable to long-term after-effects of virus recovery.

“Long COVID” can be debilitating. The most frequent symptoms that persist include extreme fatigue, muscle weakness, anxiety and depression. There are some instances of persistent loss of taste and smell.

We hope that enough adults are vaccinated so that new strains don’t get out of control. Unvaccinated people present an opportunity for the virus to survive and continue to mutate, creating more strains that find ways around the vaccines.

The Delta variant, first identified in India, appears to be the most contagious, and may cause more serious illness in unvaccinated adults and children. Scientists expect Delta to become the dominant virus in the United States in a matter of weeks. There are also reports that a new mutant is already on the horizon - Delta+ variant.

We have many years of experience with our current vaccine programs. Studies are ongoing and there is much to learn. But the volume of information we have today gives us confidence to say the benefits likely outweigh

  • the risks associated with taking the vaccine, and
  • possible vaccine side-effects, which are rare and predominantly very minor.

At this time, we’re generally seeing decreased numbers of cases in the community, and that decrease may cause people to become complacent. However, the Delta variant seems responsible for an upward trend that we’re following closely. Many of the outbreaks internationally associated with new variant spread have occurred in schools. The summer season is an opportunity to vaccinate our communities and prepare our kids – for a return to their classrooms and more normal ways of life.

For more information about COVID-19, please visit There, you can find information related to COVID-19 and children as well as other resources.