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Winona Health Pediatrician answers questions about COVID-19 vaccinations and youth

dr. sarah lallaman
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WINONA, Minn. (WXOW) - As the FDA looks to authorize the use of the Pfizer vaccine for children as young as 12, there are plenty of questions regarding the issue.

Winona Health Pediatrician and Vice Chief of Medical Staff Dr. Sarah Lallaman provided responses to some commonly asked questions she hears regarding children and vaccines. Below is what she provided to WXOW to help educate the community.


By Dr. Sarah Lallaman, Vice Chief of Medical Staff

Pediatrician at Winona Health

As of this writing (May 4, 2021), COVID-19 vaccines are approved for those aged 16 and older and we may be weeks or even just days away from approval for those 12 years and above. Currently, vaccines are in trial stages for younger age groups.

Parents, understandably, have many questions about the COVID-19 vaccine and whether they should have their children vaccinated. I hope this information, centered around the questions we’re hearing from parents, is helpful to you.

Q: I’ve heard that COVID-19 is very rarely serious for children. Why should my child get the COVID-19 Vaccine?

A: Children have been fairly fortunate when it comes to the novel SARS-CoV-2 otherwise known as COVID-19, but this is not a reason to let our guards down, relax or rest easy when it comes to kids. There are cases of devastating loses from COVID-19 in children, both from the acute illness and from the complications afterwards, even though most of us think of it as being nothing more than a cold or even less.

I have told parents that it usually isn’t the actual illness that I fear for children, but the unknowns about having COVID-19 that concern me – meaning long-term complications such as lung problems, possible blood clots or vasculitis (inflammation of the blood vessels throughout the body) or the process called MIS-C (multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children) which is quite serious. MIS-C can be deadly or have long-term heart complications.

What we have seen around Winona most commonly is healthy pediatric patients that did not have significant symptoms during their COVID-19 case, but then developed problems with exercise endurance or shortness of breath with physical activity months afterwards. This has occurred time and time again for patients that have never had any problems with asthma or breathing issues before their history of COVID-19.

The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are up to 95% effective in preventing COVID-19 and can prevent your child’s chances of having long-term serious complications, and, with the vaccine, your child can expect to have a day or two of typically mild symptoms.

One other important reason for children to get the vaccine is to continue to grow our herd immunity. While COVID-19 does not affect children as severely as it does our older generations, we do know that children are indeed part of the equation. We need our population protected to help protect the most vulnerable and at risk.

Q: What side effects might my child have from the vaccine?

A: Typical side effects for kids are expected to be similar to those of adults and would include a sore arm, fever, fatigue, chills, headache or nausea. As the vaccine trials continue and are concluded for younger children, we will know if there are any other expected side effects.

Some people experience more symptoms than others and some people experience no symptoms at all. I always remind people that children are resilient and tend to handle discomfort and symptoms way better than we do as adults!

Q: How do you know the vaccine is safe for kids?

A: Anytime there is a “new” vaccine, there is always some hesitation as many feel they can’t take their decision back. I have been trying to reassure parents all along that the technology used in the COVID-19 vaccines is not new and has been studied for decades with uses in other fields such as cancer treatment.

The vaccines are being put through the same trials for children as they were for adults and when it is offered to younger patients, it will be well tested. If the science was altogether new, I could see some hesitation, but the technology has been studied since 1990 and scientists understand exactly how it works.

Q: I’ve heard that the COVID-19 mRNA vaccines could change my DNA, and that could be even worse for kids. Is that true?

A: It is not possible for the vaccine to change your or your child’s DNA. Think of the mRNA as a ticket for the vaccine to get to the immune cells to fight infection. The vaccine rides the mRNA into the immune cell but there are different “compartments.” Once inside the cell, the vaccine starts doing the job it is there to do and makes the protein markers to identify itself as “an invader” so that the body can react by making antibodies to it. The mRNA vaccine component then breaks down because it can’t do anything else and it can’t enter any other compartments of the cells – and those other compartments are where your genetic DNA reside. Therefore, there is no way your DNA can be altered.

Q: I’ve also heard that the COVID-19 vaccines might affect fertility for women and that scares me. Is that true?

A: This is simply not true. This false rumor started from a poor news report that stated the vaccine was coding for a spike protein similar to one needed for a fertilized egg to implant successfully in the uterus. But to say that that the vaccine is going to attack this fertility protein would be equivalent to you dialing what you know is the wrong number home and expecting to talk to your family. Scientifically, it just can’t happen. Even more, during the early vaccine trials, 12 women became pregnant and the only one to unfortunately experience pregnancy loss was in the control group and had not received the vaccine.

Q: What if my child is scared to get the vaccine?

A: This would not be surprising! In pediatrics, we give vaccines all day long and it is a rare occurrence to run across a child that does well with vaccines. There has also been a lot of hype surrounding this vaccine, both good and bad. Most have found that the actual injection of this vaccine was nearly painless – and I would definitely make sure your child understands that! I would also make sure to discuss the importance of this vaccine and taking a little step towards helping end this pandemic. This is a way for them to help us get things back to normal again once enough people can get the vaccine.

Q: Would you have your child get this vaccine?

A: Yes! One of my personal mottos in pediatrics is that “I would never have you do something for your child that I wouldn’t do for my own.” I often talk about my girls, Elliott and Emerson, and they are NOT huge fans of getting the flu shot yearly. They will tell anyone who will listen how much they do not want the flu shot each year. However, they have been asking when they can get their COVID-19 vaccine because they understand the importance of protection and want to do their part in ending the pandemic. They want to help keep their grandparents safe. They want sleepovers and playdates and birthday parties again. They want recess with all of their classmates again. We would love a family vacation without worries and to see our extended family from other states that we haven’t seen in well over a year. They want popcorn and movies with their friends at a theater again.

And perhaps most important, as their mom, I want to know that if they are exposed, they will have at least a 95% chance of being protected from getting this virus that could forever change their life and, in turn, mine.

To get the latest information about the COVID-19 and your next opportunity to get vaccinated at Winona Health, visit winonahealth.org or like Winona Health on Facebook and Instagram.

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