Aussie kids aged between 5 and 11 are now eligible for a COVID vaccine, bringing the next age group in line for the rollout and offering protection against a virus that has been proven to adapt and change, infecting younger people than previous strains.
The vaccine has been shown to offer “excellent protection” for those in this age group. Although their risk of infection is lower than that of adults, and the resultant illness is not nearly as bad, it still makes sense to protect them to slow the spread of the disease and prep their immune systems against serious illness.
The vaccine is given in doses of a third of what an adult would receive and is spread apart by eight weeks between primary and secondary doses.
However, not all parents are completely on board with the idea. While it’s one thing to take a new vaccine yourself and be prepared to suffer the consequences (of which there are few, and virtually no long term issues), giving the vaccine to your own child is another source of stress and concern.
It’s a justified and valid fear for parents to hold as, we presume, most of them aren’t scientists who really understand the minutia of the vaccine and its effects on the body. Like everyone else, we’ve been trusting health authorities to do the work for us and certify that these vaccines are safe.
So, if your child has now been called up to do their bit for the country but you’re a little hesitant about the whole procedure, here’s what you need to know.
How Do We Know These Vaccines Are Safe For Kids?
The Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine is the only vaccine that has been cleared for use in people under the age of 16 in Australia. The Australian Technical Advisory Group (ATAGI) and the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) have both recommended the use of this vaccine for this age group, with the former doing so in early December.
Australia has some of the toughest and most rigorous medicine testing on the planet. We haven’t allowed, for example, many of the vaccines that other countries are happily using overseas to be used here.
That being said, we can look to other nations to examine their experiences of giving this vaccine in particular to children.
America, for example, has been vaccinating children in the 5-11 age group with Pfizer since November 2021. It was one of the first countries in the world to do so and so far, 8 million children in the US have received at least one dose of the vaccine, representing around a quarter of the people in that age group.
Thus far, very few negative or long-term ill effects have been reported in that age group. With such a large real-world sample size, we can reasonably expect that if there were issues with the vaccine for kids, they would have been discovered by now. That’s part of the reason why our own health authorities are so confident about its safety
What Are The Side Effects of the Vaccine for Kids?
As with other age groups, the risk of side effects is low. Because it’s children we’re talking about, the monitoring for side effects has been incredibly vigilant, with US Centre for Disease Control COVID-19 Vaccine Taskforce expert, Dr Tom Shimabukuro, saying that these vaccines “have been monitored under the most intense monitoring process in the history of vaccination.”
That being said, there are some side effects that are worth understanding.
One of the potentially concerning effects that has appeared to be an issue with those aged 12-17 is the risk of myocarditis. This is inflammation of the heart and, in severe cases can cause the heart to weaken leading to possible failure. It appears to be something that happens in roughly one in every 100,000 cases after the second dose.
However, US CDC data has shown only 11 cases of myocarditis in children aged 5-11 so far, and all of those have recovered. This is reassuring as it may be a condition that predominantly affects slightly older kids and teenagers.
Two deaths have been reported to the US Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System, with both children in “fragile health” before vaccination and both having multiple chronic health conditions. The data does not suggest that there is a causal link between the vaccines and these deaths.
Aside from this, children are susceptible to all of the common side effects that adults are from the vaccines. These include soreness at the site of the injection, tiredness, headaches, fevers or chills, joint pain and a general sense of feeling unwell.
None of these is anything to worry about and should clear up in a few days. It is best to speak to a GP however if these symptoms persist for longer or they start developing other side effects.
What If My Child Doesn’t Want to Get the Vaccine?
There’s any number of reasons why a child might not want the vaccine but, at that age, these are highly unlikely to be based on anything other than a fear of needles or the unknown.
Children also don’t want a whole range of things, from vegetables to seatbelts to the television being turned off and bedtime, but we make them have them anyway because they’re good for them.
Of course, medical intervention is slightly different however these vaccines are no different to the ones they would have got as a baby.
In terms of consent, children cannot consent to getting the vaccine. That’s the responsibility of a parent or guardian who, let’s face it, make all decisions, medical or otherwise, for children. It’s not an ethical question here as children are literally not able to make these choices themselves and there is no reason why they should.
However, if a parent or guardian is not available to attend the appointment, a nominated adult can be identified during the booking process and will have to be with them when they get the jab.
Fear of needles though is no laughing matter as even some adults struggle with this and, to a child, a needle is comparatively huge. Fears and phobias however can be managed and it’s important to try and keep your child calm at needle time.
Keeping calm yourself, acting like it’s no big deal, and helping to reassure your child while treating it as a normal doctors visit are all very important. Teaching them coping strategies for difficult situations, like deep breathing exercises, is a great step to help them overcome this difficult situation and others.
Experts have written that emphasising the pain, with phrases like “this might hurt,” is a bad idea and that you should try and talk up the benefits of injection overall. If one child is particularly bad, it might be an idea to separate them so as to avoid them passing on their fear to their friends or siblings.
If you can, speak to the nurse ahead of time (but not in front of the child) to explain that they might need a bit more reassurance and calming with the needle.
Needles, like anything else, are made worse by focusing too much on them and the anticipation of the event is often far worse than the actual jab. Here are some great examples of how distraction and sleight of hand can work wonders in alleviating the anxiety around the jab to show you that it’s entirely possible to remove the mental fear around this:
(Side note: this is one of my all-time favourite videos on the internet and I often imagine that I am this puppy with the peanut butter when getting an injection.)
If all else fails, just remember you’re doing a good thing for them and that they’ll thank you one day for having their best interests at heart.