How Vaccinating Kids and Teens Against COVID-19 Can Slow Spread, Variants
April 15, 2021
Vaccines against the virus that causes COVID-19 for children older than age 12 are in clinical trials right now, with data expected to be released soon. Many medical experts think these vaccines will receive emergency use authorization by summer.
We talked with UH Rainbow pediatric infectious disease specialist Amy Edwards, MD, to learn more about why children should get a COVID-19 vaccine and the part that children can play in stopping spread of the disease – and halting development of coronavirus variants.
Q. Why Should Kids Get Vaccinated If They Aren't Affected by COVID-19?
A. One reason is that kids actually are being impacted by COVID-19. The only reason why the impact that COVID-19 is having on children isn't making the news is because it is so much worse in adults.
If you compare COVID-19 to the standard respiratory viruses that kids are typically exposed to -- RSV, influenza, croup, that sort of stuff -- COVID-19 is far and away one of the worst respiratory viruses in children that we've seen in a very long time. There are pediatric deaths all throughout the country. There are kids who have been in the hospital and in the intensive care unit.
Now, it's not the 10 percent mortality that we see in people over the age of 80, but it's still significant for a child because, of course, we expect all children to make it to the age of 18.
The second thing is, especially with some of the older age groups-- teenagers, especially -- they are contributing in a very real way to the spread of the virus.
Since teenagers are playing a large role in the spread of the virus, it's nice to get them vaccinated so that they can help protect the community, just like everybody else.
Q. Why Do Kids Need To Be Vaccinated, If All the Adults Are?
A. We know right now that there are some vaccine holdouts, some people who are saying they absolutely would never get the vaccine. If that holds, if 10, 15, 20 percent of adults end up un-vaccinated, then kids -- especially kids over the age of 10 -- really could contribute to herd immunity in a real way because they're taking the place of the adults who won't get vaccinated.
Q. Would Kids Getting Vaccinated Help Keep Virus Variants From Developing?
A. Absolutely. Especially with those older kids 10 and up. The virus replicates very well in them, and the more viral replication there is, the more variants there are going to be. And so the more people who are immune to this virus -- no matter their age -- the harder it's going to be for the virus to spread in the population, the harder it's going to be for variants to emerge, the more of a barrier we can make to the current variants.
Some of those variants are dangerous viruses, more dangerous than the standard COVID-19 virus. And so it's important: The more people who are vaccinated, the quicker we can protect ourselves from those more dangerous variants.
Q. Will Vaccinating Children Help To Restore Things Like In-Person Classes and School Activities?
A. Absolutely. Getting kids, especially those older kids, vaccinated are vital for herd immunity. Kids in that 12- to 18-year-old age range, with sports and activities like prom, have way more contact with a lot more people.
Let’s say I were a secretary in an office. I might have contact with, what, five, six, seven people in an entire day? And then plus my family? A teenager is going to have contact with dozens and dozens and dozens of people every day. They go to an after-work job. They go to sports. They have all their different classes that they go back and forth between. So getting the teenagers vaccinated is a really important step if we want this fall to be as if nothing ever happened.
You know, the vaccine is safe for kids. That's what the studies show. We already have the data for the 12- to 16-year-olds. And it will not make your child infertile, no matter what the internet says.
Initial research suggests that fewer children than adults develop fever, cough, or shortness of breath or need hospitalization with COVID-19. However, severe illness has been reported in children with COVID-19 -- most often in infants younger than a year old. Learn more about the impact of coronavirus in children and young adults.