On June 17th, 2022, the FDA approved COVID-19 vaccines for children as young as 6 months old. 18 months after the first adults were getting their COVID vaccines, our little ones were finally eligible. But how important could it be to immunize a young child against COVID-19?
Through the pandemic, children have been low risk for serious illness or death from COVID-19. I am so grateful that is true! The pandemic was stressful enough. I’m thankful we didn’t need to stress more about the safety of our little ones! If children are low risk, then why would they need to be vaccinated?
Since 2020, there have been just over 450 children between 6 months and 4 years of age who have died of COVID. There are 2 ways to view that number. The first is that it represents a tiny percentage of children who have been infected with COVID-19 – roughly 0.003% or less. But also, 450 children is a lot of children – too many children. Kids that age are healthy and rarely die. COVID-19 easily makes the top 10 causes of death in children of that age since 2020.
It is true, however, that we can really only talk about past risk with COVID-19. Your guess is as good as mine about future risk to your children. I would guess it will be lower than past risk because if you’ve had COVID, your risk of severe disease drops. But it’s been very difficult to predict how each new mutation will affect us.
Death is not the only risk associated with COVID-19. Children who catch COVID may become very sick, be hospitalized, and even develop “Long COVID” symptoms. These are also outcomes that we’d like to avoid and vaccines can help.
The reason that the vaccine was approved and is recommended is that the vaccine has been found to be so safe. There have been no negative long-term outcomes from the vaccine in children under the age of 12. Myocarditis is caused by the vaccine, mostly in young adolescent males. This rare complication has not been seen at all in children under the age of 12. Of note, even in adolescent males, the risk of myocarditis from COVID-19 is 2-5 times higher than the risk of myocarditis from the vaccine. Your child might feel sick for 24-48 hours after the 1st or 2nd dose (separated by 1 month), but those symptoms resolve quickly.
Having your child immunized against COVID-19 is taking nearly zero risk to prevent against a very low risk event. Admittedly, it is not a high stakes decision. But I think the healthy decision is clear.
If you asked me to give you a list of things you can do to help keep your kids safe, I would say, “double check their car seat, make them wear a helmet when they ride their bikes, be careful around water, and vaccinate them against COVID-19 and influenza.” Each of these interventions protects against rare events and comes with minor inconvenience, but will help keep your child safer!