And parents come to them with a lot of questions: When can my child come in to get their vaccine? And what are the side effects?
But before the vaccine is given, doctors are waiting for the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to give the green light. And, of course, they are waiting for the vaccines themselves.
As the nation approaches this historic moment in the Covid-19 pandemic and vaccinates the youngest age group to date against Covid-19, pediatricians’ offices report that the mood among parents is a mixture of zeal and hesitation.
‘This is what I expected’
“Two-thirds of families are excited about the vaccine – these families want to be first in line and will enroll their children when they are available,” Johns wrote in an email to CNN about her patients’ families.
“A third of families, on the other hand, are still hesitant and have questions,” she added. “This is what I expected and falls in line with data from other medical groups.”
“I probably think about a third die to do this. I fall into that group,” said Wajnberg, a mother of two children between the ages of 5 and 11. She added that the pandemic has been difficult for children, as many have been socially distanced from friends and loved ones, and some families see being vaccinated as a way to give children a new level of freedom as well as some protection against Covid-19.
“Then I think there are about a third who are nervous and want to wait a bit,” Wajnberg said. “So they might feel more comfortable after a few weeks or months when hundreds of thousands or millions of children have had it. And then of course there may be a group that would like to wait a little longer.”
The questions some parents have
The majority of U.S. parents in a nationwide survey reported that they will not get their younger children vaccinated right away.
About 76% of respondents said they were “very” or “somewhat” concerned about long-term side effects, while 71% were concerned about serious side effects. An increasing number of people also seemed to believe in the myth that vaccines could affect fertility. About 66% of respondents said they were “very” or “somewhat” concerned that the vaccine could have a negative impact on their child’s future fertility.
These are some of the same concerns that parents have shared with Shapiro, the pediatrician and father based in California.
Most of his patients’ parents have asked, “‘What are the side effects?’ ‘What do we know about fertility?’ And the third: ‘If I want it, when can I have it?’ Those are the three most important issues, “Shapiro said.
Commonly reported side effects in the clinical trial included a sore arm where the shot was given, redness and swelling, fatigue, headache, muscle or joint pain, chills, fever, swollen lymph nodes, nausea and decreased appetite.
The side effects were generally mild to moderate and occurred within two days of vaccination, and most went away within one to two days, the FDA reported. More children reported side effects after the second dose than after the first dose.
“And of course you have the question, ‘What happens to fertility?’ “Right now we have a lot of good information that this is not happening at all. There is no reason for parents to be afraid of infertility in children,” said Shapiro.
“And many parents actually want to get vaccinated,” he added. “But the question is when? Should I spend another school day? Should we lose another workday? There are many other complicated issues.”
Shapiro said he hopes children will be vaccinated quickly so the United States can avoid a serious increase in Covid-19 cases this coming winter.
“We are closing the window so that we can make a huge difference for December, January and February. That is my main concern right now,” Shapiro said.
“Right now, if we do not do something powerful, I’m extremely worried about what’s going to happen in December,” he said. “We know it takes six weeks to make a difference. So if I get vaccinated on November 1, my body will defend me completely before December 15. So the window is now – for adults and for children.”
‘The biggest challenge right now is the unknown’
Pfizer’s vaccine for younger children has not only been reformulated to a third of the dose, but repackaged – with a new orange top, making it difficult to mix with the adult vaccine.
Hypothetically, providers could start giving Covid-19 shots to 5-to-11-year-olds right now under the FDA’s emergency use permit and before the CDC’s recommendation to do so – something that happened when vaccines were approved for older children – but it will still depend on which providers’ vaccine orders are completed first and how quickly these providers receive shipments of the doses.
“The biggest difference to this rollout is that pediatrician offices are likely to be places to administer vaccines,” Johns wrote in an email to CNN, but she added that the vaccine doses allocated to pediatrician offices still need to be sent – and the timeline for it is still somewhat obscure.
“The biggest challenge right now is the unknown. We do not have information on when we can expect to receive shipments and delivery quantities, which can make it harder to set dates and times,” Johns said.
“We also want to be aware that there are children in the school, so we need to ensure that there is a minimum of teaching time. Our goal is to make the whole process convenient, easy and accessible for families.”