On The Fence About COVID-Vaccinating Your Teen? Start Here

by Christine Organ
Scary Mommy and Yana Tikhonova/Getty

Since the FDA approved Pfizer’s COVID vaccine a few weeks ago, many parents (myself included) have been rejoicing and seizing the opportunity to get their teens vaccinated against COVID-19. Recent reports indicate that about 60% of parents plan to vaccinate all of their children when it becomes available for their age group.

But that leaves about 40% who are either undecided, taking a wait-and-see approach, or not planning on getting their kids vaccinated. Which means we have our work cut out for us if we’re going to have any hope of reaching herd immunity and putting an end to the pandemic.

Much of parents’ trepidation about getting their kids vaccinated comes from either a lack of information or misinformation about COVID vaccines. As parents, we all want what’s best for our children. We want them to be safe and healthy. We will do anything to protect them. I firmly believe that all parents really do want what’s best for their children. But there is a lot of misinformation out there, causing some parents to think that foregoing vaccines – including the COVID vaccine – is what is best for their children.

To quell this misinformation, we’ve gathered some of the most common questions or concerns parents have about getting their teens and tweens vaccinated, along with the science-based, factual responses to those questions, so that parents can make informed decisions.

Q: The vaccine was developed so quickly. How do I know it’s safe?

A: Though the vaccines were developed efficiently, the vaccine technology wasn’t rushed. The vaccine relied on previous research that began in 2003 thanks to SARS, which is similar to COVID-19. The vaccine went through Phase I, Phase II, and Phase III clinical trials, and because the disease was so prevalent, researchers didn’t need to wait to gather the minimum number of cases during the trials.

Q: The side effects sound worse than actually getting COVID-19?

A: While it’s true that some people develop side effects and that children are generally less likely to develop serious problems even if they do get COVID-19, the side effects from the vaccine are temporary (generally lasting only a day, but in no instances did they last more than a week) and the long-term impact of COVID-19 is still unknown.

According to the FDA, the most commonly reported side effects in the teen clinical trial participants were pain at the injection site, tiredness, headache, chills, muscle pain, fever, and joint pain. Side effects typically lasted one to three days, but the vaccine’s protection lasts months or maybe even longer. What’s more, getting the vaccine will also prevent children from spreading the disease to others who are more likely to get seriously ill.

The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recently put out a statement indicating that they had investigated reports of myocarditis – inflammation of the heart muscle – among people who had received the vaccine (mostly teens and young adults) and found that the rates were not higher among people who had been vaccinated. Parents should take comfort in knowing that the CDC and FDA, along with medical professionals, continue to take a very close look at any potential side effects. All of their investigations have found the vaccine to be safe and effective.

Q: What vaccine can kids get?

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A: Currently, kids age 12-17 can only receive the Pfizer vaccine. Moderna recently released data from their trials in 12-17 year olds; the vaccines were found to be safe and effective in that group, and the company plans to submit its data to the FDA in June. In April, Johnson & Johnson also began studying 12- to 17-year-olds. Kids under 12 are expected to be eligible for the vaccine this fall.

A: Does the vaccine work?

A: Yes. The Pfizer vaccine was 100% effective in clinical trials.

Q: We still don’t know what the long-term side effects of the vaccine could be, and I don’t want my child to be a guinea pig.

A: The vaccine biotechnology used in the Pfizer vaccine – mRNA biotechnology – does not alter a person’s DNA, and based on what we already know about mRNA and the way it acts in the body, epidemiologists don’t expect there to be long-term side effects from the vaccine. First, the vaccine ingredients move through the body quickly, and mRNA generally breaks down within 72 hours of injection.

Q: Isn’t the vaccine like giving my kid the virus?

A: No, mRNA vaccines aren’t comprised of the actual pathogen so they don’t contact weakened or dead parts of the virus. The New York Times explains mRNA vaccines like this:

“Think of the mRNA molecule like a set of instructions. While a traditional vaccine uses a weakened or inactivated germ to trigger an immune response in our bodies, the mRNA vaccines carry a set of instructions to teach our cells how to make a protein that will trigger an immune response and produce antibodies to the virus.”

Q: My child already had COVID so they don’t need the vaccine, right?

A: Wrong. Even if a person got COVID, they still need to get vaccinated for full protection. There are several new variants emerging, and the vaccine better protects these new variants. The immune response from vaccination is stronger than from “natural” immunity if a person is exposed to the virus again.

Q: With cases falling and kids less likely get serious infections, does my kid really need to get the vaccine?

A: YES. More kids in the U.S. have died from COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic than die annually from other illnesses for which children are regularly vaccinated, like flu and chicken pox.

It’s okay to ask hard questions about efficacy and safety of the vaccines. In fact, this is what it means to be a parent. So do your research – relying on reputable, science-based sources, please. If you’d like some more links with helpful information, try these:

Answers to Your Questions About Covid Vaccines and Kids, The New York Times

Should children get the COVID-19 vaccine? Experts address parents’ concerns, TODAY

FAQ: What You Need To Know About Pfizer’s COVID Vaccine And Adolescents, NPR

Children and teens are next in line for COVID vaccine, Axios