Alaska News

Alaska coronavirus Q&A: Answering parents’ questions about vaccinating children

This week, vaccine providers around Alaska began offering child-sized doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to kids ages 5 to 11, following federal and state guidance. Here, we answer all your questions about kids and their new vaccine eligibility.

Have a question of your own? Drop it in the form at the bottom of the article.

I thought kids didn’t usually get very sick from COVID-19. Why do health officials recommend that they get vaccinated?

Even though children are at a much lower risk than adults of getting seriously ill or dying from COVID-19, there’s still a risk — provisional data from the CDC last updated Wednesday reported a national total of 680 confirmed COVID-19 deaths among children and teens ages 18 and younger over the course of the pandemic so far — and more than 8,300 kids ages 5 to 11 have been hospitalized with COVID-19 because of serious illness.

“We know that children are lower risk; they are not no-risk,” said Dr. Anne Zink, Alaska’s chief medical officer, during a call with the public and members of the media this week. She said she recommended that parents speak to their providers about getting their young children vaccinated, calling it a safe and effective choice.

“We’ve been lucky in Alaska, we have not had any pediatric (coronavirus) deaths,” added Dr. Lisa Rabinowitz, a physician with Alaska’s health department. However, there have been 16 cases in the state of children developing a serious inflammatory syndrome after recent COVID-19 infections, including some who ended up in the pediatric intensive care unit with severe complications, she said.

The condition, known as multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children, or MIS-C for short, can lead to inflamed organs — including the heart, lungs, kidneys and brain, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In an analysis by the CDC, about a third of kids with the condition had no underlying health condition.

In Alaska, “many of those (kids with MIS-C) were in the ICU for prolonged stay,” she said. “So although kids generally do a little bit better when they do get a COVID infection, we still see kids who get very sick and are hospitalized,” she said.

Preventing children from getting COVID-19 by vaccinating them can also help cut down on transmission, said Dr. Joe McLaughlin, Alaska’s state epidemiologist.

“There’s really good epidemiologic data now that shows kids are efficient transmitters of the virus to other people,” he said.

Can kids get vaccinated in the same place as adults?

In many cases, yes — though parents will need to make sure the clinic they’re visiting specifically has pediatric doses of Pfizer’s vaccine available.

Children can also get vaccinated at their pediatrician’s office.

How do I make an appointment?

Parents seeking children’s vaccine options at Anchorage-area providers can look for those designations at anchoragecovidvaccine.org, which lists many, but not all, vaccine providers available.

[Relief, excitement and some anxiety as newly eligible Alaska children receive COVID-19 vaccine]

All Alaskans can also call the state’s coronavirus helpline at 907-646-3322 for assistance finding and making an appointment. That phone line is monitored from 9 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. on weekdays, and 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on weekends. Free language interpretation services are available.

What are the possible side effects kids might experience?

While there have been no signs of serious side effects for children — and non-serious side effects have been generally milder for children than adults — a small amount of pain at the injection site children is the most common side effect, Zink said. Fatigue, headache and muscle aches were also common side effects that went away within a day or two.

Is the vaccine equally protective for kids as it is for adults?

Clinical trials conducted by the drug company found their pediatric vaccine to be about 90.7% effective against symptomatic COVID-19 — high but not quite as high as protection conferred for adults.

I am anxious about vaccinating my kids with something that was produced in such a short period of time. Is it really safe?

When child-sized doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine received an emergency-use authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration this week — and was also recommended by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — those votes of confidence were based on clear evidence that the vaccine’s benefits clearly outweighed the risks.

“They looked at the risk of COVID to the actual kids, and they also looked at the rest of the community, and they looked at the risk of vaccination,” Zink said this week. “And it was all of those factors weighing in that they felt as though they were incredibly safe and efficacious,” she said.

“When we look at the risk of COVID versus the risk of vaccine, we just consistently see that the vaccine is much more safe compared to getting COVID,” Zink added.

I heard that younger kids need a smaller dose of vaccine. Why is that?

The doses being given to kids ages 5 to 11 are smaller because of kids’ more robust immune systems — not because of their size.

“Kids’ immune systems are really tuned into developing a robust system to fight viruses and bacteria, and are really good at responding to vaccines in general,” Zink explained.

“So it’s for that reason, even if you have a really small 12-year-old, they should get the adult dose, and if you have a really big 8-year-old, they should still get the kids dose,” she said.

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