Are COVID-19 vaccines safe for kids?

Doctor holds needle to check it, while a teen rolls up his sleeve waiting for the injection, with an older woman by his side.Nova Scotian kids aged 12 to 15 can now get immunized against COVID-19 with the Pfizer mRNA vaccine. The Moderna vaccine may be authorized for this age group in the coming weeks.

It’s important for children to be vaccinated as soon as they are eligible, says Dr. Joanne Langley, co-chair of the Canadian COVID-19 Vaccine Task Force and head of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at the IWK Health Centre in Halifax.

“This is both for their own protection and also because if they are protected, they will protect the broader community,” she says.

Some parents might wonder if the vaccine is safe for their child. They may have concerns about how quickly the vaccines offering protection against COVID-19 were approved. After all, it usually takes years to develop and approve new vaccines.

What’s different in the case of the COVID-19 vaccines is time and money. In a global pandemic, time is of the essence, and so government, public health authorities and manufacturers all invested massive resources to quickly bring these vaccines to clinical trials and scale up manufacturing so that millions of doses were ready.

“Those trials were not rushed in the sense that any steps that are normally taken were not completed,” says Dr. Langley. “For example, mRNA vaccines have been in development for decades. It wasn’t until the pandemic that the resources were brought to bear on that platform to enable it to be tested. Instead of things being done in sequence and then waiting for the results, all the steps were taken but often at the same time.”

The safety of the COVID-19 vaccines was proven in large clinical trials, and as with most vaccines, the evidence in these trials was first collected in adults.

“We’re all human beings so there are some things we can learn from testing it in another age group,” Dr. Langley says. “This huge foundation of knowledge about COVID-19 vaccine use that we have in millions and millions of people gives us a good sense of what the safety and efficacy is.”

“The data set for children is smaller, but the evidence aligns with the adult evidence, so that would lead to its approval for use during the pandemic.”

Parents may have other uncertainties, she acknowledges, and it is important to deal with each concern. Some of these will be unfounded while others may not be fully understood yet, such as the rare cases of heart inflammation, or myocarditis, reported after receiving the vaccine.

“While talking to a family about their adolescent or child I would work through, for that possible adverse event, what the likelihood is of it based on what we know so far and what the risks and benefits are of vaccination versus not vaccination,” she advises. Weigh the risks if your child gets COVID-19 versus the chances of these extremely rare events. “Overall, the benefit is in favour of vaccination.”

Even if your child has already had COVID-19, they should still be vaccinated as immunity after infection is not as strong as after vaccination, so there is a chance they can get the virus again.

There are trustworthy resources online that can help parents or kids learn how the COVID-19 vaccines work, about the use of the Pfizer vaccine in children and adolescents specifically or how to cope with a fear of needles. As well, the Canadian Paediatric Society’s Caring for Kids website offers an easy-to-understand Q&A section all about kids and COVID-19 vaccines.

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