Analyzing long-term impact, side effects and risks of COVID shot for kids

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has approved the use of COVID vaccines in children ages 5 to 11. But a Kaiser Family Foundation survey found only 27% of parents plan to opt for the shot. One third plan to wait. Another 30% say they won't vaccinate their kids. William Brangham reports with Dr. Yvonne Maldonado, chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics' infectious diseases committee.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    With the CDC approval of a children's COVID vaccine expected shortly, parents will be able to get first doses for their children in the next few days.

    But a Kaiser Family Foundation survey found only 27 percent of parents say they are eager to get the shot. One-third say they will wait for now, and another 30 percent say they definitely will not get it for their children.

    We wanted to hear more about how parents see this, and what they need to know.

    William Brangham is back with the perspective of a top pediatrician.

    But, first, here's what parents told us.

  • Jessie Lackey, Parent:

    For us, the whole time, vaccines have been the key to being able to get back to some sense of normalcy And especially with her being an only child, it's been really hard to not be around other people.

    We're at that point where it's like, OK, as soon as she can get vaccinated, we're going. Like, she's going to be the first in line.

    I just don't think it's a choice I would make. I just don't think it's within their self-interests.

  • Mark Donner, Parent:

    We have gone a bit too far as a society because of the pandemic and setting precedents to take away personal liberties.

    I heard Dr. Fauci said TV:

    Dr. Anthony Fauci, Chief Medical Adviser to President Biden: Put aside all of these issues of concern about liberties and personal liberties and realize we have a common enemy. And that common enemy is the virus.

  • Mark Donner:

    The atmosphere that people are coming from that liberties are not as important when it's one of our unalienable rights per the Declaration of Independence.

  • Onawa Dufresne-Barger, Parent:

    There's a lot that's unknown with long COVID. And I know even some kids have been affected by it. Obviously, I don't want that for my child, so I want to get her vaccinated as quickly as possible.

  • Kathy, Parent:

    I would say I'm a vaccine-hesitant parent. I'm concerned about myocarditis in young children, especially having a boy, and I also think the risk to children is low if they do get COVID. So I'm just very cautious, and it's not something I'm going to jump into.

  • Jamie Phelan, Parent:

    I'm still on the fence. I probably will end up doing it, but I'm worried about the small group of kids, the kids in the trial.

    And they're kind of just guessing based on what happened with the older group with the myocarditis and whatnot. So that kind of worries me, just because it is such a small group, and they're just kind of guessing at what's going to happen.

    My husband's family has heart issues. So, worried that's going to pass on to my kids. But, then again, if they got COVID, there's a really big chance that they could also have heart issues. So, it's — I don't know.

  • Dr. Elizabeth Cote, Parent:

    I actually can't wait for them to get vaccinated. I tried to get them in trials to get vaccinated, and we already are on the wait-list at the pediatrician's office.

  • Child:

    These are the people that we will be having today.

  • Dr. Elizabeth Cote:

    The kids play COVID. They're playing a COVID testing clinic, which they do every week in school now. And I know that, with getting the COVID vaccination, they won't get as sick if they get COVID or one of the variants, and they are much less likely to die.

  • Michael Chen, Parent:

    So, we plan to vaccinate our 7-year-old, because he has several life-threatening food allergies, which means that he is more likely to have to visit the emergency department whenever he has the anaphylaxis reaction.

    Having him vaccinated means that, when he does have to go to the hospital, that's taking one of two major concerns off the table for us. Is he going to come home potentially with COVID? He could potentially react to the vaccine as an allergic reaction.

    I guess the other potential concern that I think about is, we really don't know the long-term effects or side effects of this vaccine, because we don't have that longitudinal data quite yet.

  • Jennifer, Parent:

    I think I'm going to postpone just for a little bit, and not do it right away, just so I know what numbers are coming in and what's happening in the now. Me and my husband had no hesitation about getting vaccinated.

    But for them, I mean, like, of course, I want to protect them. I need to know more.

  • Lauren Rowlett, Parent:

    Because my daughter has a complex medical history, she's very small, and she's also at high risk.

    And so one of our concerns is whether her small size, being more like the size of a 3-year-old, would impact in any way the safety or her eligibility even to get the vaccine.

  • William Brangham:

    So, these kind of concerns and questions are what pediatricians and other medical professionals will likely hear about in the days ahead.

    So, we are going to try to answer some of them now.

    Dr. Yvonne Maldonado is chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics' Committee on Infectious Diseases. And she has been a principal investigator in the Pfizer vaccine trials. She gets no payments from Pfizer.

    Dr. Maldonado, very good to have you on the "NewsHour."

    I loved hearing from all those different parents. And I want to just sort of dive right into some of their questions, a combination of questions here. One parent expressed a concern that there were too few kids in the trials and that then, when you start vaccinating potentially tens of millions of kids, that new problems could crop up.

    Another parent expressed the concern that, well, we haven't been vaccinating for that long, so what happens if, a year from now, two years from now could a problem come up? What about those concerns?

    Dr. Yvonne Maldonado, Committee on Infectious Diseases Chair, American Academy Of Pediatrics: Well, thank you for those questions.

    And it's natural for a brand-new virus and a new vaccine, that people will have questions. And I think the first thing I would like to say is that the American Academy of Pediatrics, which represents 67,000 pediatricians around the country, has been really keeping up to date around the facts about COVID, about COVID vaccines.

    And pediatricians around the country are waiting anxiously to answer questions for parents. So, I think, for vaccine-hesitant families, it's really important to contact your providers. If you don't have a private provider, your public health provider will be happy to answer questions for you. So this is a natural fear of a new disease that we're seeing.

    But regarding the clinical trials, the number of people enrolled, the number of children enrolled is about the same and sometimes a little higher than other vaccines for children. And in context of the other age groups that have been studied, we have already seen hundreds of millions of doses given to older children and adults.

    So, we have a very good sense of how these vaccines work, what the safety is like, and what the effectiveness is.

    And in particular now, what this particular set of studies did is really put a fine point on what happens specifically with this age group. And what we saw was that the side effects, the effectiveness, all of that is very similar, if not better in some cases, than what we saw in older children and adults.

    And so, regarding the vaccine itself, the platform itself has been around for decades. So we know that this vaccine itself will disintegrate as soon as the immune response is elicited. It is gone, eliminated from the body, and there really is no risk at this point that we can see for side effects long-term.

    However, we will need to study this vaccine, like we study any other vaccine, for long-term impacts. And to date, with all of our safety systems in the U.S., we have not seen long-term impacts from vaccines that we have used in children before.

  • William Brangham:

    So that's certainly good news for parents who are listening to this.

    What about the issue of myocarditis? This is the inflammation of the muscle in the heart. We had seen it in some rare instances with younger males who had been vaccinated. Any data that that's a problem for this younger group of kids?

  • Dr. Yvonne Maldonado:

    Well, we really don't have that data because, as you probably know, the risk is highest in boys and in young adult men, and the risk is really highest in about 16-to-17-year-old boys, at the rate of about 70 per million doses given in that age group.

    It's much lower in all other age groups. So, even in that age groups, it's about one in 10,000 boys in that group. In other age groups, the risk is exceedingly low, and we're not seeing — and we couldn't obviously see any signals in the children who were studied here, because this was well under a million children who have been studied.

    But the risk seems to mirror what we see for natural myocarditis, which is caused by viruses and bacteria and parasites in all age groups. And it mirrors the same incidence that we see, the same curve that we see in natural myocarditis.

    And this age group, at least for background myocarditis from other causes, is actually quite low.

  • William Brangham:

    And what about the concern that some parents have expressed that, one, I don't want my children to get long COVID? What do we know about that?

    On the flip side of that, though, you also do hear parents say, well, it sounds like kids don't generally get that sick from COVID, so why do I need to vaccinate them?

    What would you say to parents who expressed that?

  • Dr. Yvonne Maldonado:

    Yes, let me start with that first, because we have — since last year, we heard a lot of misinformation spread nationally that, A, kids didn't get infected, B, they didn't spread disease, and, C, they didn't get sick if they did get infected. That's absolutely false.

    In our children's hospital and children's hospital around the country, children have been admitted to the hospital, put on ventilators, they have died. It is not something that you want to happen, especially if you have a safe and preventable approach to this disease.

    Now, so far, we have seen almost two million children infected in this alien group of 5 to 11, with thousands, 8, 300 hospitalizations in this age group, and very severe cases in at least 2, 500, with 94 deaths.

  • William Brangham:

    All right, Dr. Yvonne Maldonado…

  • Dr. Yvonne Maldonado:

    Yes, so it is really — it has been quite a severe disease.

    And I would say that the risks of immediate impact are much more important. And that was expressed today at the meeting. Every single person who spoke said, A, that they would vaccinate or have vaccinated their own kids, and, B, that the risks of this disease — and we have all seen it — far outweigh any potential short-term problems.

    The long-term issues, we will continue to follow for long COVID, but it looks like the risk of long COVID is subtle, and we won't really know for some time.

  • William Brangham:

    All right, Dr. Yvonne Maldonado, thank you so much for being here.

  • Dr. Yvonne Maldonado:

    It's a pleasure. Thank you.

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