Parents grapple with vaccination question

Children ages 5 to 11 join ranks of eligibility for COVID shots

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While some parents have moved forward with getting their children ages 5 to 11 vaccinated against COVID-19, others are still hesitant.

Dr. Brandi Freeman, a pediatrician for Children’s Hospital Colorado, said she has been addressing a lot of parent concerns, hesitation and anxiety as they struggle to make a decision on whether or not to get younger children vaccinated.

“The hesitancy given the environment and the world we live in today is a normal thing,” Freeman said. “As a pediatrician, I try to talk to parents and work to understand what their hesitancies are and answer the questions they have.”

The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) approved the Pfizer vaccination for children ages 5 to 11 in early November. After the approval, the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment (CDPHE) followed suit, advising parents to get the vaccination for school-age children.

In the Nov. 5 press release, the CDPHE said, “Vaccines are the safest, most effective way to slow the spread of COVID-19 and help avoid the worst outcomes — severe illness, hospitalization, and death — among those who do become infected. Getting vaccinated means kids can look forward to holiday activities, participate in extracurricular activities, have fewer interruptions to in-person learning, and see family and friends without worrying as much about getting COVID-19 or having to quarantine and miss out.”

Until the recent FDA approval, only those 12 and over were eligible for the vaccination.

According to CDPHE data, 10% of the 3.9 million people vaccinated in Colorado range in age from 5 to 19.

Once her children were eligible, Centennial mom Katherine Giuffre said she was “elated” to get her two sons, ages 5 and 7, vaccinated quickly.

Giuffre said she did not have the same level of hesitation as other parents, noting it is all about safety.

“I was so excited and started looking for clinics to schedule the vaccination right away,” she said. “I had been preparing and researching for months. With them vaccinated, I feel safe in having them going to school. We are going to be able to really get out in the world again. We love to travel, and this is important to be able to do that.”

After the vaccinations, Guiffre said her 5-year-old complained of a sore arm, but it did not prevent him from playing tennis and going about his day. Her 7-year-old had zero side effects from the shot, Guiffre said.

Freeman said soreness in the injected arm has been the most common side effect patients are reporting. Children may also feel ill for about 24 hours, Freeman said, noting that the side effect is normal and no cause for concern.

With a vaccination that has become politicized over the last two years, Freeman said not all parents are as excited as Guiffre. Some of the common concerns about getting the vaccinations are what the long-term effects will be, Freeman said.

Freeman said some concerns and hesitancy stem from myths being spread on social media and throughout the internet.

Freeman said a common misconception is that the COVID vaccination is brand new with little research or data. In actuality, Freeman said, the mRNA that makes up the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines was developed more than 20 years ago and shelved.

Like a pair of shoes that someone loves but does not have a special occasion or an outfit to match, Freeman said a person may buy them and shelve them until the right time.

“The vaccination is similar,” Freeman said. “The technology was developed and held until we needed it. The vaccine is safe and can help get us back to what we consider normal life.”

Another common myth that has had no actual scientific data to back it up is that the vaccine will cause fertility issues, Freeman said.

The side effects that are common, Freeman said, are no different from other shots.

“Millions of people have received these vaccines without a problem,” she said. “With that, it is important to prepare your child. It is a needle and there is some pain associated with that. Coach them before the shot to settle the anxiety they may have.”

Guiffre said she started preparing both her boys several weeks before the vaccination date. With communication and talking about what to expect, Guiffre said, there were no tears.

Freeman said in advising parents about the vaccination, she is honest that the long-term effects of getting COVID are a lot more worrisome than the short-term impacts of a vaccination.

While each childhood COVID case is different, Freeman said with every diagnosis in children there is a concern it will turn into MIS-C.

MIS-C, or multisystem inflammatory syndrome, is a serious condition associated with COVID-19 where different body parts can become inflamed, including the heart, lungs, kidneys, brain, skin, eyes or gastrointestinal organs.

Over the summer, Dr. Anne Jobman, of UCHealth Primary Care, said the problem with MIS-C is that it can present with a variety of symptoms and show up weeks after a child is exposed to COVID.

Symptoms of MIS-C can include abnormal gut pain, bloodshot eyes, chest tightness/pain, diarrhea, feeling extra tired, headache, low blood pressure and neck pain.

Freeman said she has advised families that the risks associated with the vaccine are less risky than getting COVID.

Besides protecting the child against COVID, Freeman said, a vaccination will also protect other people.

“A vaccinated child will not infect other people,” Freeman said. “It will protect their grandparents, people who are immune compromised and the community as a whole.”

As the number of vaccinations among the state’s children increases, clinics have been set up in various counties and select pharmacies, such as Walgreens, have made the shot available to young patients.

To find a vaccine clinic for children, visit the state’s website at covid19.colorado.gov/kids-vaccines.

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