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For many parents, particularly ones with children under 12 years old who are not yet eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine, trying to navigate how to keep kids safe during the pandemic hasn’t been easy. With FDA approval for emergency use authorization of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID vaccine in children ages 5 to 11 anticipated in the coming weeks, some parents may be wondering about the vaccine in children and have questions about safety and side effects.
With that in mind, Yahoo Life tapped Dr. Jessica Kiss — better known as AskDrMom to her 20,000 followers on TikTok — a family medicine physician and mom of four who has been sharing health information on the platform to help educate others. “Since the pandemic started, I’ve gotten lots of questions about what’s going on with COVID and their families,” Kiss tells Yahoo Life.
Here, Kiss answers some of the COVID-related questions she gets asked the most by parents.
What should parents know about the COVID vaccine for children ages 5 through 11 — and how safe is it?
“Pfizer has already shown data that it’s a pretty safe vaccination,” says Kiss. “It looks like it’s as safe as giving it to older children.” Results from Phase 2/3 of Pfizer’s clinical trials in children ages 5 to 11 showed the vaccine to be “safe” and “well tolerated,” with “robust” antibody responses.
It’s also worth pointing out that kids 5 to 11 years old will get a “smaller dose than the older kids and adults,” says Kiss. Kids in that age group would get a two-shot regimen of 10 micrograms, which is a third of the dosage used for adolescents and adults, administered 21 days apart. Despite the lower dosage of the COVID vaccine for children, Kiss notes “it’s been proven to show just as good of an immune response.”
What potential COVID vaccine side effects do parents need to be aware of and how can they prepare their kids?
Kiss says the side effects from COVID vaccines for children ages 5 to 11 will likely be similar to the side effects some adults experience post-vaccine. “So they could, in the first 24 hours, have headache, have a little tummy ache, or even a small fever, but it should go away within that 24-hour period, just like with older kids and adults.”
As with adolescents and adults, other possible side effects include the “remote” chance of a severe allergic reaction, reports Pfizer, as well as muscle aches, joint pain, or fatigue. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, myocarditis — inflammation of the heart muscle — is an “extremely rare” side effect of COVID vaccinations. The AAP points out that getting COVID-19 itself carries a much higher risk of myocarditis than getting vaccinated.
How does the COVID vaccine impact menstruation?
More research is needed to understand if there’s a possible connection between COVID vaccination and temporary changes to the menstrual cycle — and in fact, five U.S. institutions were recently awarded grants to study this more. A recent study published in the British Medical Journal found that while a link is “plausible,” any menstrual changes were short lived.
“Most people who report a change to their period after vaccination find that it returns to normal the following cycle and, importantly, there is no evidence that COVID-19 vaccination adversely affects fertility,” wrote the study authors.
Several factors can affect menstrual cycles, including stress and illness. As Kiss points out, “If you’ve ever been sick as a woman or a person who menstruates in general, you might notice that your menstrual cycle is kind of wacky,” says Kiss. “It can be longer, shorter and just strange in general. This is not going to be dissimilar with COVID-19.”
Kiss adds: “The risk of this seems to be pretty small, and it does not impair fertility by having a strange menstrual cycle once. So, in my opinion, parents of daughters should not wait to get the vaccination.”
How dangerous is it if your child isn’t yet eligible for the COVID vaccine and the babysitter or childcare provider isn’t vaccinated?
If you’re in this type of situation, it’s all about taking precautionary measures. “You need to make sure that all of the other factors are accounted for — meaning, those workers are masking consistently around your children and others outside of their care,” says Kiss. That means “when they go out, they’re wearing masks, that they’re social distancing, and they’re limiting contact and exposure with others,” she says.
If your babysitter is vaccinated, is it safe for that person to watch your unvaccinated child?
It depends, says Kiss. “If your family is at higher risk for a complication from COVID-19, the [vaccinated] person who is watching your child could still get exposed and spread COVID-19 to your unvaccinated child and thus to the rest of your family,” she says. However, “if you trust that that person who is vaccinated is masking consistently and doing all the other things right around the unvaccinated person, it may be okay for them to continue to watch your child, depending upon your family risk.”
How much protection can children get from breast milk from a vaccinated mom?
It’s possible for a vaccinated mom to pass antibodies to her child through breast milk, notes Kiss — and recent research published in the journal Pediatrics backs that up. The same study found that the impact was greatest for mothers breastfeeding past 23 months.
However, Kiss adds there’s an “asterisk to that, though.” She explains that “it looks like, in general, that concentration [of antibodies] is going to be highest and most effective in younger babies nursing. But that research is still pending.”
Kiss shares that after she got the second dose of her COVID vaccination back in January, she was still nursing her 2-year-old daughter and wondered if she could pass antibodies to her child through breast milk. So Kiss tested her own breast milk in her medical office “before there was any of this research,” she says, and was “screaming” when tests revealed there were, in fact, protective antibodies in her breast milk. “And that’s because antibodies in breast milk at a high enough level could be significant to help develop immunity,” Kiss says.
What’s your message to parents who are unsure about vaccinating their kids against COVID?
Like any protective parent, Kiss candidly shares that even she was “a little worried” about giving the COVID vaccine to her children. She says that all of her children are involved in the vaccine’s clinical trials, with three of her kids in the 5 to 11 year old age group and her 2-year-old in the under 5 age group. “I will tell you, I was worried at first because of fear of the unknown,” shares Kiss. “But I knew in my heart that it was OK because it had been proven safe for older kids, and the dosage is much smaller in children that are younger.”
For parents who have concerns about their children getting vaccinated, Kiss strongly recommends talking with your kid’s pediatrician. “Any time you’re worried about anything with your child’s health, you really should contact your health care provider,” says Kiss. “That is what we are here for. That is our job, and we do it day in and day out.”
Video produced by Olivia Schneider.