The COVID-19 pandemic has upended the lives of almost everyone in the world over the last year and a half. From masks to quarantines to school closures, this public health crisis has made life challenging for parents in particular as they navigate this new reality in an attempt to keep their kids healthy and happy. And though there are now vaccines widely available, much confusion continues to persist over whether these vaccines are safe and who should be able to get them. The good news for parents and everyone is that the vaccines are indeed safe and are approved for adults and kids ages 12 and older.
Facts About COVID-19
As most people are now aware, the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19 was discovered in late 2019. As it has spread around the world, scientists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have learned a great deal about how the virus functions and how to fight it. COVID-19 is very contagious and can be easily passed from one person to another via aerosolized droplets of saliva and mucus produced by our respiratory systems. The virus can live in these droplets and can infect another person simply by breathing them in. Also, if the droplets land on the hands, the virus can infect the body by touching the eyes, nose, or mouth.
In the past several months, a new variant of the virus known as Delta has emerged. While the CDC and the rest of the scientific community continue to learn more about this variant, what has become clear is that Delta is more contagious and spreads faster than the version that first started spreading around the United States. It also appears that the Delta variant is capable of causing more severe forms of the COVID-19 illness. Even though Delta is potentially a more serious concern, however, evidence to date has also shown that the vaccines that are now widely available are still very effective at preventing serious illness and hospitalization.
Like some other infectious diseases of the respiratory system, COVID-19 has a number of recognizable symptoms. Some of these symptoms are similar to those of a common cold or the flu, but COVID-19 is more contagious, can be contagious for longer, and can ultimately cause more serious illness than either one. Though it can’t be accurately diagnosed based on symptoms alone, it is helpful to review the most common symptoms:
- shortness of breath
- difficulty breathing
- fever or chills
- muscle aches or headaches
- sore throat
- nausea or vomiting
- a new loss of taste or smell
Facts About the COVID-19 Vaccines
In December 2020, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted emergency use authorization for two experimental vaccines that had been developed in record time over the preceding year. Both the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and the Moderna vaccine were approved at the time, and as of August 2021, the Pfizer vaccine has now been granted full FDA approval. Full approval of the Moderna vaccine is expected in coming months. Both vaccines have proven to be extremely effective at preventing serious illness and hospitalization in most patients.
Both vaccines are considered mRNA vaccines, a new type of vaccine technology. Traditional vaccines work by introducing a weakened form of the virus into the body so that the immune system is forced to develop antibodies to fight it. In mRNA COVID vaccines (short for messenger RNA), a small bit of the virus’ genetic code is delivered to the body; the immune system then essentially uses this code as instructions for producing special proteins that cause the body to produce the necessary virus-fighting antibodies.
A third vaccine, manufactured by Johnson & Johnson, was granted emergency use authorization by the FDA in February 2021. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is a different type than Pfizer or Moderna. This vaccine is considered a viral vector (or carrier) vaccine, which means that it uses an inert virus as a means of transmitting the coronavirus genetic code that will be used by the immune system to create effective antibodies. While still a reasonably effective defense against serious illness, scientific analysis has demonstrated that it isn’t as effective as Pfizer or Moderna.
Who Can Get the Vaccine?
As of September 2021, the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine has been fully approved for individuals aged 16 and older. It is also approved under the previous emergency use authorization for the age group that includes children ages 12 to 15. The Moderna vaccine has still only been approved for individuals 18 and older. In addition to having FDA approval, the Pfizer vaccine is also recommended by the CDC for all individuals 12 and older. While research is still ongoing, many medical experts predict that the vaccines will eventually also be approved for younger children under 12 years old.
What to Expect from COVID-19 Vaccination
Even though getting a COVID-19 vaccine isn’t a guarantee not to ever get COVID, the overwhelming evidence is clear that the vaccines are very successful at preventing serious illness, hospitalization, and death. So even if you got COVID after vaccination, it would most likely be a mild version that won’t land you in the hospital. Moreover, though fully vaccinated people may be able to get the disease and be contagious, new vaccine trials have suggested that they are contagious for a shorter time than the unvaccinated.
Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are administered in two doses, spaced three and four weeks apart, respectively. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine only requires one single dose, though the CDC may be recommending a second dose in the coming months. Also, because of the uncertainty caused by the new Delta variant, the FDA may also soon be approving a third “booster” dose for Pfizer and Moderna. As of September 2021, though, individuals are considered fully vaccinated with either a double dose of Pfizer or Moderna or a single dose of Johnson & Johnson.
Does the Vaccine Have Side Effects?
Though potentially uncomfortable, most side effects of the vaccine are a positive indication of an immune response and that the vaccine is working. Children generally get the same side effects, if any, as adults do, including some pain, redness, or swelling at the site of the shot. The severity of the pain and swelling varies from person to person, but in most cases it will go away after a couple days. In the meantime, any pain can be treated with over-the-counter pain relievers, a cold compress, or gentle motion with the arm. Other potential side effects include:
- muscle pain
These symptoms are typically experienced for a few days after vaccination at most. You or your child may need extra rest during that time as well as drinking plenty of fluids. It may also help to dress lightly if you have a fever. Many people have reported that the side effects after the second dose of Pfizer or Moderna were more intense and unpleasant than after the first dose. This is also normal and is further evidence that the vaccine is doing its job.
Is the Vaccine Really OK for Children?
At TrustCare, we know some parents are understandably concerned about whether the vaccines are safe for their children. In addition to being promoted by the CDC, our own doctors also enthusiastically recommend getting your children vaccinated. Dr. Catherine Phillippi, pediatrician at TrustCare Kids, has three children of her own, and they were ages 13, 16, and 18 when they were vaccinated. “I would not give my children something that I thought could harm them,” Dr. Phillippi said. “I would not give it to your child either.”
At this point in time, none of the vaccines are approved for children under the age of 12. Additional research may change this guidance; recent clinical trials in children have been promising and indicate that the vaccines may soon be approved for young children between 5 and 11. In the meantime, parents can continue to protect their unvaccinated children through the use of face masks in public and around people who aren’t family members or who they don’t live with.
Get Vaccinated ASAP
Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has gotten worse in recent months and has been spreading most aggressively in communities with low vaccination rates. Sadly, children are not immune to this disease and are at risk. To best protect yourselves and your families, it is imperative that you get you and your family vaccinated as soon as you can. At TrustCare, we are eager to help you with this process by offering both vaccinations and COVID testing, in addition to a variety of health care services. Please contact us to schedule a vaccine appointment today!
This post has been medically reviewed by Dr. Catherine Phillippi, pediatrician at TrustCare Kids. She earned her medical degree from the University of Mississippi School of Medicine in 1999 and completed her pediatric training at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences/Arkansas Children’s Hospital.