By Nina Huang
Northwest Asian Weekly
To protect the youth who aren’t eligible to get the COVID-19 vaccine yet, the answer is simple: get vaccinated, continue social distancing, and wear masks.
In addition, Dr. Jeffrey Duchin, Health Officer and Chief of the Communicable Disease Epidemiology & Immunization Section for Public Health–Seattle & King County, shared in a recent press el briefing that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends those between 2 to 5 years old wear a mask under supervision of adults whenever possible.
In order for children under 12 to prevent getting COVID-19, Christina Bradic, spokesperson for Public Health–Seattle & King County, wrote in an email that children and adults who are around unvaccinated children should be vaccinated. Social distancing is still important and outdoor activities are safest.
“Children who have symptoms shouldn’t go to school. They should be tested for COVID-19 and follow guidance about when returning to school is safe; which would be after symptoms resolve or after 10 days of a positive COVID-19 test. Both children and adults who have symptoms shouldn’t be around others and should be tested,” Duchin said.
Vaccines in development for kids
Dr. Thomas Hei, family physician at University of Washington Medicine for 26 years, shared that the vaccines are actively being studied for children under 12. The researchers, Center for Disease Control (CDC), and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) all have to be careful to make sure there’s enough time for studies and observations before they authorize the vaccine.
“As we get younger and younger, the stakes are higher and higher, which is why we can’t rush this,” he said.
“We care incredibly much about our children and our elderly and in our current state, we really are trying to protect our elderly family members, neighbors, and friends, even though the children currently cannot be vaccinated, even though the disease technically is less severe in children, less likely to be severe in children. The risk of having them get infected by not protecting them, is putting our elderly folks and immune compromised folks at higher risk,” Hei said.
As to why there isn’t a vaccine for children yet, she wrote, “There are currently studies looking at the safety and efficacy of the vaccine for children under 12 years old. Since children under 12 are at a different state of development, the FDA wants to take the same precautions taken with other groups to know the vaccine is safe and effective.”
Dr. Deepa Yerram, Physician and Interim Chief Medical Officer of International Community Health Services, said that results for the vaccine trials for ages 2 to 11 should be ready by early fall. From then, they can review how to approve for that age group as clinical trials are an essential part of vaccine development.
In addition, she added that both Pfizer and Moderna are undergoing studies for children 6 months to 2 years old.
Vectors of transmission
Hei stressed the importance of vaccinating the people around the kids. There was an incident at the hospital where a colleague got COVID-19 even though she was vaccinated. She couldn’t go to work for 10 days because her 3-year-old got infected by their nanny who wasn’t vaccinated.
Her toddler didn’t have symptoms which is much like the case, but kids can get infected, not feel sick, and still spread it to other people because they serve as vectors of transmission, he explained.
Hei’s colleague tested positive but didn’t need to be hospitalized, which is the whole point of the vaccine, he said.
“It’s not to prevent infection altogether 100%, but the chances of getting so sick goes down dramatically. In the case of protecting children, people around them really need to make sure they’re vaccinated,” he added.
Bradic also wrote that the COVID-19 vaccine has been shown to provide a high level of protection for teenagers without adverse effects. This gives teens more freedom to socialize and to regain a sense of normalcy. It also protects people these teens interact with.
According to the King County website, about 62% of those ages 12 to 19 have completed their vaccine series, which is the lowest among all the age groups.
Yerram shared that one of the factors fueling hesitancy among parents is the association of the vaccine and myocarditis and pericarditis, which is the inflammation of the muscles of the heart and the sheath around the heart, respectively.
According to the CDC, the cases of inflammation of the heart are rare. Confirmed cases have occurred mostly in male adolescents and young adults 16 years or older, more often after getting the second dose, after the first dose of one of these two mRNA COVID-19 vaccines, and typically within several days after COVID-19 vaccination. Patients can usually return to their normal daily activities after symptoms improve, and the CDC continues to recommend the vaccine for everyone 12 years and older as it is still the best way to protect oneself and their family from COVID-19.
Fear of the unknown
Hei said that in his experience talking to patients who aren’t vaccinated, they are most concerned about the unknown of the future. His patients are worried about what the vaccine might do to them or their children 20 years from now.
“Of course no one has an answer for that. No reputable doctor can ever tell you that it’ll be fine because there are no studies yet.
However, no counter person can tell you the opposite either, but the truth is we don’t know, but we can’t wait five, 10, 15 years to know before we start getting vaccinated. It’s already killed over 600,000 people in the country. It’s like you’re trying to avoid a car crash because you’re worried about changing lanes 10 miles down the road.”
Hei tells his medical students that it’s a disinformation war.
“Why we lose is because we have to tell the truth, but we have to keep telling the truth and hopefully people will trust us.”
“If there is enough fear of what might happen 10 years down the road, then I don’t think we’d give it to 90% of the doctors because that’d wipe us out. Our country won’t have doctors in 10 years,” he said.
Yerram advises people to delay travel until children are fully vaccinated. And the public might have more information around safety profiles for kids under 12 this month.
Hei shared that people need to try and think beyond themselves.
“From a cultural perspective as Chinese, on average, we tend to be more community-minded than self-focused, and we need to emphasize that point. We may be vaccinated, but please wear a mask as much as possible.”
Nina can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This health series is made possible by funding from the Washington Department of Health, which has no editorial input or oversight of this content.