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Monica Benjamin at the virtual seminar on Zoom.

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MONTPELIER — The youngest members of the community are eligible for COVID-19 vaccinations, and a nurse practitioner took the time to address potential concerns parents might have about taking their children in for a shot.

Monica Benjamin, a nurse practitioner, led a virtual seminar Wednesday hosted by the Vermont chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics about COVID-19 vaccines for children ages 6 months to 5 years old. The seminar backs up the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendation for all eligible children to get vaccinated, even if they have already had COVID-19.

Benjamin discussed each slide of the presentation in detail in an effort to ease any parent’s concerns with vaccinating their children. She began by stating that the COVID vaccine is similar to other vaccines a child would receive at the doctor’s office. It creates antibodies that lower the child’s risk of getting COVID, and it lowers the risk of serious illness, hospitalization and death if the child becomes infected.

CLINICAL TRIALS

Placebo-controlled trials effectively proved that the mRNA vaccines, Pfizer and Moderna, are safe for children. The clinical trials incorporated children who have previously had COVID and those who have not. Some children didn’t have any side effects, while others had pain at the injection site — which is common with other vaccines.

In the Pfizer clinical trials, children experienced other side effects, like fever, irritability and fatigue. When these side effects occurred, they were mild. Over 3,000 children from the age of 6 months to 4 years old participated in the Pfizer study.

The Moderna clinical trials had over 6,000 participants from the age of 6 months old to 5 years old. Some participants experienced headaches, fatigue, chills, irritability and fever. No severe incidents were reported. Vaccinating children is “very safe and effective,” said Benjamin.

Myocarditis, or inflammation of the heart muscle, is a common concern among parents. Benjamin was clear: there were no cases of myocarditis in these trials. They “haven’t seen any to date,” said Benjamin. Individuals are more likely to experience myocarditis after getting COVID, not a COVID vaccine.

There have not been any instances of new side effects occurring eight-weeks after the vaccine was administered. Benjamin said there is no biologic mechanism, like a vaccine, that can cause long term effects.

She also confirmed that the vaccines do not change or mutate genetic material.

CONCERNS

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Children who are not vaccinated are more likely to be hospitalized if infected by the virus. Getting COVID can also lead to pneumonia, and this pipeline is more common in adolescents than any other age group.

Without a vaccination, children are also more likely to be hospitalized for COVID related croup, asthma, inflammation of organs, such as the brain, and dehydration. Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in children is also more common without vaccination.

Children with underlying medical conditions should also be vaccinated. The underlying conditions make the children more susceptible to dangerous COVID complications, and getting the child vaccinated can help prevent those complications from occurring.

Many parents are questioning why the vaccine has an age limit instead of a weight limit. This is because a vaccine isn’t a medication. Its purpose is to enhance the immune system, which matures with age not weight, Benjamin explained. A 6 month’s old immune system has the same maturity as a 4-year-old’s immune system.

The COVID vaccine can be administered with the other vaccines that your child needs, like at a 6 month check up.

IMMUNITY

While surviving COVID boosts your immunity for about 90 days, the immunization from the vaccine lasts much longer. After having COVID, Benjamin said the child will have an improved antibody response to the virus, but “it’s better to prevent COVID from happening in the first place.”

If a child gets COVID, they can be vaccinated once their period of isolation is over. The vaccination can wait up to 90 days after infection, but it takes several weeks to complete the vaccination process and for the vaccine to be fully effective.

Some children have been healthy throughout the pandemic, and parents are wondering if their child needs to be vaccinated. Unfortunately, COVID doesn’t care that a child has been healthy, and there is no way to know what reaction a child will have to COVID. “We don’t know who it will affect the worst until it happens,” said Benjamin.

Benjamin also gave some personal advice to parents who are thinking about waiting for a new vaccine that would protect against different variants. Her advice is not to wait. There is no definitive timeline for the new vaccines to be released. The vaccines on the market will still help protect the children, especially with school just around the corner.

Child vaccinations are available at some pharmacies, WIC offices, Department of Health walk-in clinics and form a medical provider. For any additional information or questions, contact a medical provider.


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