Dr. Sallie Permar, pediatrician-in-chief of NewYork-Presbyterian Komansky Children’s Hospital and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at Weill Cornell Medicine, spoke to Health Matters about what parents need to know about vaccines for children as young as 6 months and why it’s important for all kids to get vaccinated for COVID-19.
Is the COVID-19 vaccine safe for babies and young children?
This vaccine is safe. Safety is the utmost concern in vaccine development, and the standards are extraordinarily high. Our children’s well-being is the highest priority, and I want parents to know that it’s pediatricians who led the studies in children and reviewed the safety data, and the decision was unanimous to recommend this vaccine for children down to 6 months of age. These are the same pediatricians parents trust with their child’s day-to-day care.
Are there concerning side effects?
No. Reactogenicity (known reactions that occur after vaccination) in the pediatric age groups has been similar or lower than that in adults, and no rare side effects have been identified in ages 5 to 11. In the trials for the youngest age groups, the reported side effects were mild, including irritability, sleepiness, and pain at the injection site.
While there will be careful reviews of any reports of severe side effects once the vaccine is administered to millions of babies and toddlers, given the extremely safe profile of the vaccine in the trials and across age groups, we don’t expect there to be an issue in this age group.
How effective are the vaccines for this age group?
The data released showed that both vaccines were effective in preventing infection. The Pfizer vaccine had an 80% efficacy rate. The Moderna vaccine had a 51% efficacy rate in the younger cohort of children 6 months to 23 months old, and a 37% efficacy rate in children 2 to 5 years old.
What are the advantages of getting vaccinated at this age?
One of the truly amazing things about our immune system is that it is designed to respond to many potential infectious threats at one time. For example, a newborn who had been in a protected environment is suddenly faced with a number of potential pathogens when they’re born — and their immune system is built to handle that.
So, we really are able to leverage that design of the immune system when giving vaccines in early life to establish immunity that will last for a child’s whole life. That’s why we have many highly effective vaccines that are administered in the first year of life. With other vaccines, it has been shown that vaccinating your child at an early age gives them a better chance of having a more durable response for the long term.
Further, while most children will experience mild disease from COVID, COVID has become a leading cause of death in children, in particular in the 0-to-4 age group where over 400 infants and toddlers have died from the virus over the last two years. In addition, some children are experiencing long term effects from the infection. Vaccination can prevent these rare, but serious, effects of this virus in children.