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Bay Area pediatricians urge parents: Don't wait to vaccinate 5-11 year olds

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. (KRON) — Bay Area pediatricians answered questions anxious parents are frequently asking now that COVID-19 vaccines are available for children between ages 5-11.

Dr. Stephanie Chiang, a pediatrician with Sutter’s Palo Alto Medical Foundation in Fremont, and Dr. Judith Vallero, a pediatrician with Sutter Medical Group in Davis, had one strong message for parents: COVID vaccines are safe and effective for young children.

Chiang and Vallero told a dozen reporters Friday that they both have children who are younger than 12 years old. The pediatricians said they are getting their own kids vaccinated within the next week so they can be fully vaccinated before Christmas.

The vaccine dose that elementary school-aged children will receive is only 1/3 the dose that adults received. The smaller dose is equally as effective in children compared to adults who had the full dose, Vallero said.

Chiang said the sooner 5-11 year old children are vaccinated, the better.

Question: As pediatricians, what do you want parents to know about vaccinating their children?

Chiang: “That this is a really exciting time for our kids as we move one step closer to the end of the pandemic. Children can take a big step of protecting themselves and their loved ones from COVID. Kids can spend the holidays giving hugs without fear of giving COVID to each other.”

Vallero: “This is a wonderful time for them. Kids can help the health of their families, their communities, keep their schools open, and engage in afterschool activities.”

Question: What is unique about vaccinations for children 5-11?

Vallero: The optimal dose is 1/3 the adult dose. Children had very robust immune responses even with the lower dose.

Question: Is the vaccine safe? What about myocarditis?

Vallero : “Myocarditis is a very rare occurrence with the heart muscles being inflamed and the lining of the heart. (There were) 2.1 cases per every 100,000 cases (in 12-16 year olds). There were no long term side effects. It was very benign. With trials in children 5-11, they didn’t find any cases of myocarditis. Because it’s a lower dose, they don’t expect to see that. The vaccine is safe and I would recommend it to any 5-11 year old.”

Chiang: “The benefits far out way the risk. With the damage COVID can do to your organs, we know the risk of COVID far outweigh any risk of the vaccine itself.”

Vallero: “Since October, 24 percent of our weekly COVID cases in the U.S. are children.”

Question: My child is about to turn 12. Should they get the 11 year old dose, or the 12 year old dose?

Vallero: They should get the 11 year old dose. 

Question: Should my child get vaccinated if they had COVID?

Chiang:  Yes, get vaccinated as soon as you are released from your isolation period. 

Question: Why should I get my child vaccinated if children are not severely impacted by COVID?

Vallero: “I know many parents are wondering about the fact that COVID does not effect children as severely as adults. (However) there are some kids who can become very ill from the disease. Over 6.2 million children tested positive since the pandemic began. This year, COVID-related death has been one of the leading causes of death for this age group. I really implore (parents) to understand the risks and benefits. There are no big risks and there are tremendous benefits for this vaccine.”

Question: What about the flu shot? Is it safe to receive multiple vaccines with the COVID vaccine?

Chiang: “It is OK and safe to be given multiple vaccines with the COVID vaccine.”

Question: Should I just let my kid get COVID naturally for natural immunity?

Vallero: “We are not sure about the robustness of (natural) immunity or if it even lasts.”

Question: What is the benefit for my children?

Vallero: “There has been a big rise in anxiety and depression in our teens and even young children (because of schools being closed). This pandemic highlighted socio-economic disparities. Schools were a place where we could provide free meals and after school care so our parents could work. The families who were most effected by school closures were minorities and families with limited resources to begin with. Vaccinations will help keep COVID low enough in our communities so our schools can stay open. Everyone has a part in this pandemic.”

Question: What are you planning for your own children?

Vallero: “My 11 year old could not be happier that he can get it now. We are heading into the holidays. He’s going to get his vaccine within the next few days. It is a no-brainer. We are going to get it quickly. He can’t wait to have his first event with his grandparents for Christmas and the New Year’s holidays.”

Chiang: “My 9 year old is getting his vaccine and he’s excited. We are looking forward to spending close time with his grandparents. By the time the holidays come around, he’s going to be fully vaccinated.”

Question: Where can my child be vaccinated?

Vallero: “Pharmacies, schools, our health systems, and you can go to myturn.ca.gov for more details on availability in your area.”

A 6 year-old girl is comforted by her mother as she receives her first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine by a medical assistant on November 3, 2021. (Photo by JEFF KOWALSKY/AFP via Getty Images)

Question: How can I prepare my child for getting the shot?

Chiang “Talk to your child about it. Ask your child what they need to feel comfortable. Bring a favorite stuffie. Hold their hand.”

Question: When children are fully vaccinated, will students still need to wear masks at school?

Chiang: “It depends on vaccination rates. Hopefully, the data will show that yes we can remove the masks. That decision will be up to the state, county, and school districts.”

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