Arizona Public Radio | Your Source for NPR News
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

U.S. sees slow progress on COVID vaccinations for young children

 Young girl about to receive a vaccine from a medical professional
Heather Hazzen
SELF x American Academy of Pediatrics Vaccine Photo Project
Young girl about to receive a vaccine from a medical professional

The COVID-19 vaccine was approved for children under the age of five last month. But nationwide, only 2% of kids in that age group have received a shot so far. And only 30% of children ages 5-11 are fully vaccinated. KNAU’s Melissa Sevigny spoke with Dr. Emmy Iles of Mountain View Pediatrics in Flagstaff about the slow vaccination rates and what parents need to know.

Thankfully we know that the coronavirus disease is usually mild in children, but why should parents consider getting the coronavirus vaccine for this youngest group of children?

You are absolutely right, the vast majority of young children who develop COVID will have mild symptoms or moderate symptoms. However there have been many children in that age group who have gone on to have severe symptoms, even required hospital stays. They’ve shown, throughout the United States since the pandemic began, numbers in the thousands. Among those children, about half of them didn’t have any underlying medical conditions, so it was difficult for people to predict who is going to get really sick and who isn’t. So the COVID vaccine is the best way to protect your child from severe illness going forward.

And I want to emphasize you said protect them from severe illness, meaning they may still get sick, but it’s not going to be as bad.

Exactly. The big role of these vaccinations is to really prevent serious illness and death. The mild infections can be expected to happen, in fact they often do, but as long as we’re keeping symptoms mild, and keeping kids healthy without long term complications, we are reaching our goal.

And how do scientists know that the coronavirus vaccine is safe to give to young children?

That’s a great question. Some people feel the mRNA vaccine is a very new thing, but actually the technology for mRNA vaccines has been around since in the 1960s, and the first clinical trials they did on mRNA vaccines were in 2001. So we have actually decades of research on this technology, and specifically for the COVID vaccine we now have two years of research in the adult population….So I feel like at this point we have so much data both from the adult population as well as the older children and the teenagers to basically say it is safe to give to younger children.

For parents with young children who already have been sick with COVID, is it still a good idea to consider the vaccine?  

Definitely. The reason for that is infection with the actual virus, the immune system response is variable and unpredictable, and there have actually been studies that have shown that children, especially the ones that had mild or asymptomatic infections, did not have a robust antibody response. The other thing, too, it doesn’t tend to translate well from variant to variant. With the COVID vaccine, you can be more reassured the antibody response is much more broad, and longer lasting, and can go from variant to variant in general.

What side effects should parents look out for?

The trials for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines both showed, overall, very minor side effects for children. The big ones tended a little bit of fatigue, a little bit of fussiness, low grade fevers, headaches, and some pain at the injection site.

I was looking at the data from the Arizona Department of Health Services and vaccine uptake for that younger group is lower than it is for the older population. What’s behind that? What concerns have you seen that parents have?

I think the biggest concern is that it’s new…. I think a lot of them rely on the fact that it’s mild in young children, and I think a lot of them don’t feel it’s necessary. Going back to the point I made before, you don’t really know what children are going to get sick and end up in the hospital. That’s why I feel like it’s an important measure to take to protect your child.

Can you talk a bit about where we’re at with the pandemic, two and a half years on, we’re all I’m sure tired of talking and thinking about this—

Oh, 100 percent. There’s a lot of COVID fatigue happening in the community and probably the world at this point. It’s important to stay vigilant. I really feel like that vaccines are going to be the solution to us moving on with this pandemic.

Dr. Iles, thank you so much for speaking with me.

No problem, thank you for having me.