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Parents Shouldn’t Hesitate to Vaccinate Kids Younger Than 5

University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children'sExperts in Children's Health
A doctor vaccinating a young girl, who is being held by her mother

Earlier this summer, the Food and Drug Administration authorized the COVID-19 vaccine for children 6 months to 4 years old, but many parents of children in this age group have been reluctant to have their kids vaccinated.

Polling by the Kaiser Family Foundation showed more than 40 percent of parents said they would not have their children immunized. The foundation reported that only 2.8 percent of children under 5 had been vaccinated in the first month of the roll-out – far fewer than older kids at a similar point.

The volume of misinformation about vaccines on the internet and elsewhere is fueling doubts and scaring parents.

“The COVID-19 vaccine is just as safe as other childhood vaccinations. Serious adverse reactions to the vaccine are extremely rare,” says Amy Edwards, MD, University Hospitals Rainbow & Babies pediatric infectious disease specialist. “Children may experience mild side effects such as swelling at the injection site, fatigue or body aches, but the effects subside after a day or two.”

“This is a well-studied vaccine with minimal side effects,” Dr. Edwards says.

Dr. Edwards addresses some common myths about the COVID-19 vaccine and young children.

Myth: Development Was Rushed, So COVID-19 Vaccines Are Unproven

Dr. Edwards: The vaccines were created with messenger RNA (mRNA) technology, which has been in development for decades and studied for flu, rabies and other diseases.

Messenger RNA teaches our cells how to make a protein found on the surface of the virus, which triggers an immune response, prepping our bodies to fight the virus.

“We were already going to have our first mRNA vaccine right when COVID-19 hit,” Dr. Edwards says. “It’s an incredibly flexible vaccine. All you have to do is pull out the mRNA for influenza and put in the mRNA for COVID-19.”

That flexibility allows vaccines to be developed and produced faster than with traditional methods for making vaccines. mRNA vaccines have been held to the same safety and efficacy standards as other vaccines.

Large amounts of public and private investment and the ability to quickly recruit volunteers for the COVID-19 vaccine studies also helped move the process along quickly.

“A lot of factors went into why it was such an accelerated timeline and none of that has to do with safety or efficacy of the vaccine,” Dr. Edwards says.

Myth: More Long-Term Safety Data Is Needed

Dr. Edwards: Most vaccine studies run for one or two years. The safety part of the study comes first, and it usually lasts three to six months. If there is a safety problem with vaccines, it will be known in the first weeks or months. People incorrectly believe that safety issues can arise years after a vaccine has been on the market.

Some medications have been found to cause problematic side effects after years, but it’s not the same with vaccines, Dr. Edwards says. “We don’t study safety of vaccines for long-term because vaccines aren’t a medication you’re exposing yourself to every day,” she says.

“They go into your body, they create an immune reaction and the vaccine components are gone. The things the vaccine is made up of are broken down and either recycled or excreted by the body. A week or two after you’ve been vaccinated, the vaccine is no longer in your body. There’s no physical way for it to have an effect on you years down the road.”

Myth: Children Don’t Get Severe COVID-19 Infections

Dr. Edwards: COVID-19 has killed more than 1,000 children. To put it in perspective, a few hundred children typically die in a bad flu season.

More than 40,000 children have been hospitalized with COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic. As many as 40 percent of kids hospitalized with severe COVID-19 were previously healthy with no significant underlying medical problems.

“A lot of parents believe that kids can’t get severe COVID,” Dr. Edwards says. “While it’s true that kids aren’t as high risk as adults, it’s not true that kids aren’t at risk for severe COVID.”

Beyond the initial infection, COVID-19 also can cause long COVID – a wide range of long-term complications – as well as multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MIS-C).

“This is not nothing in kids,” Dr. Edwards says, adding that a steady stream of children have been admitted to the hospital with severe COVID-19. “Most kids will have mild disease and will recover with no problems, but if it’s your kid who has a bad outcome, statistics don’t matter.”

Many parents choosing to not vaccinate their children don’t understand the risks. “Given how safe the vaccine is and how good the safety profile is, it’s well worth lowering the risk of contracting COVID by vaccinating,” she says.

“The vaccine decreases the risk of MIS-C by 97 percent. In adult studies, it decreased the risk of long COVID by 15 to 30 percent. And it decreases risk of hospitalization and death by about five times compared to not being vaccinated.”

Related Links

Vaccinating children against COVID-19 helps provide immunity for youngsters, while helping to stem the spread of the virus and curb mutations that lead to new, more severe virus variants. Find out about the authorized vaccines, how they work, possible side effects and the benefits of having your children vaccinated.