Vaccines Are Essential for Children
August is National Immunization Awareness Month, a great time to ensure your child is up to date on necessary vaccinations. Vaccines are essential in protecting children from serious illness. Over the years, vaccines have saved millions of lives.
We know pediatric immunization rates have decreased since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that only 78 percent of kindergarteners in Washington, D.C. had the necessary vaccinations to start the school year in 2020-2021. That is the lowest percentage in the country among 47 states reporting vaccination data.
I want to remind parents about the importance of pediatric vaccinations, particularly since a COVID-19 vaccine is now available and recommended for children 6 months old and older.
What is a vaccine?
Vaccines reduce the risk of getting a disease by working with your body’s natural defenses to build protection. When you get a vaccine, your immune system recognizes the invading germ (such as a virus or bacteria) and produces antibodies. Antibodies are proteins produced by the immune system to fight disease. Once exposed to one or more doses of a vaccine, we typically remain protected against a disease for years, decades or even a lifetime. This is what makes vaccines so effective!
The COVID-19 vaccine
If you haven’t already, I encourage you to get your child vaccinated against COVID-19.
There are two vaccines approved for children 6 months-18 years old. After rigorous testing, both the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines were found safe and effective for children and teens.
The size of the dose depends on a child’s age. Babies and children age 6 months-5 years get a smaller dose than kids age 5-11 or kids age 12 and older. Each vaccine produces a strong immune response in the body, regardless of dosage.
- Moderna: Children age 6 months-5 years old who get the Moderna vaccine get two doses, spaced four weeks apart, with a third additional primary dose if a child has certain immunocompromising conditions. Each dose is 25 micrograms, or one-quarter of the adult dose. Children 6-11 years old get two doses of 50 micrograms of the vaccine, or half of the adult dose. Children 12 and older get two full doses of the Moderna vaccine.
- Pfizer: Children ages 6 months-4 years old who get the Pfizer vaccine get three doses. The second dose is given three weeks after the first. The third dose is given two months later. Each dose is 3 micrograms, or one-tenth of the adult dose. Children 5-11 receive two doses of the Pfizer vaccine, spaced approximately three weeks (21 days) apart, with a third additional primary dose if a child has certain immunocompromising conditions. Each dose for children 5-11 contains 10 micrograms of vaccine. Children 5 years and older should also get a COVID-19 booster when eligible.
There is a common misconception that children don’t get severely ill from the coronavirus.
But over 100,000 children have been hospitalized for severe COVID-19 illness since August 2020. During the Omicron variant surge beginning in late December 2021, children age 0-4 years were hospitalized at five times the rate of the previous surges. Additionally, COVID-19-associated hospitalization rates in those age 5- 11 years were twice as high among unvaccinated as among vaccinated children. And as of June 2022, the CDC has reported over 400 deaths of children 4 and under and over 800 deaths of children 5-18 years old.
Children age 0-4 years were hospitalized at five times the rate of the previous surges.
It’s been more than two years since the COVID-19 pandemic started, and vaccination is still the best way to prevent serious illness or complications like long COVID. Now nearly all children can get the vaccine and be protected.
What about other vaccines?
Children need vaccines and booster shots from the time they are born until they are 18 years of age. The CDC recommends parents follow a vaccine schedule to best protect their child. If parents follow that schedule, their children will be protected from 14 potentially deadly diseases before their first two years of life, and booster shots later in adolescence act as further protection. Multiple vaccines can be given during the same doctor’s visit, including the COVID-19 vaccine.
The most commonly required vaccines for children and teens are:
- Diphtheria, Tetanus and Pertussis (DTap)
- Meningococcal Conjugate (MenACWY)
- Hepatitis B
- Measles, Mumps & Rubella (MMR)
- Haemophilus Influenzae Type b (Hib)
- Pneumococcal (PCV)
- Polio (IPV)
- Varicella (Chickenpox)
- Hepatitis A (HAV)
- Human papillomavirus (HPV)
How can I prepare my child for a vaccine?
Most adults are nervous around needles, so it’s natural for your child to be, too! Here are some tips I give parents to help prepare their child for a vaccine:
- Be mindful of the words you use: say “vaccine” instead of “shot”
- Remind children of the importance of vaccines: “They protect against scary illnesses.”
- Take their favorite book, toy or music to the doctor’s office
- Let them sit on your lap during the vaccine: a warm embrace can go a long way!
Doctors offer various pain relief options for children when they receive vaccines. For example, I offer children over the age of 2 a pain-relieving spray that numbs the skin around the arm. Another option is a buzzing device that confuses the body’s nerves and distracts attention away from the pain, thereby dulling or eliminating sharp injection pain. For young children and babies, mothers can breastfeed while their child gets a vaccine.
How do I schedule an appointment?
Talk to your pediatrician about any vaccines your child may have missed during the COVID-19 pandemic. They will be happy to get your child up to date. If you’re nervous about any pediatric immunization, talk to your child’s pediatrician. He or she can provide you with science-based advice about vaccinations for your family, including a recommended vaccination schedule. We are here to help your child live the happiest, healthiest life possible.