Now that the CDC has approved the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID vaccine for kids ages 5-11, here are my predictions as to what will happen:

  1. One-third of you will RUN, not walk, to get it.
  2. One-third of you will absolutely refuse it, for varying reasons.
  3. One-third of you will wait a little bit….to see what other families do, and watch how other kids feel after getting it.

I write this for those of you in the gray zone. And maybe even a few in the “no” zone?

Every family is different. And I get that.

Some of you are really nervous about COVID, and some of you aren’t. I get that.

And some of you are nervous about a “new” vaccine, and some of you aren’t. I get it.

And I’ll never judge you for questioning what goes in your child’s body. It is natural to be skeptical of new knowledge.

But I will be getting it for my kids. And after reviewing every page of the data, here are my reasons:

1. My perspective is unique.

I think this is one of the biggest reasons this decision was easy for me. Being a pediatrician gives me a unique perspective.

I have worked in pediatric ICUs and ERs. I have seen children suffer tremendously and even die at the result of viruses.

I have seen the flu cause a heart infection so bad in a child they required a heart transplant within 7 days of contracting it.

I have seen a “tummy bug” kill an infant in 24 hours.

I have seen the common cold put children on ventilators.

It’s true – COVID is typically very mild in kids. No one disputes that.

But I will give you my perspective: I have seen COVID make kids so sick they need to be in the ICU. Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children (MIS-C). Double pneumonias. I have watched it torment some kids for months after the initial infection, both physically and psychologically. Let’s not even talk about the anguish of losing a parent or grandparent to COVID.

I hate COVID. And I want to protect my kids against it.

And this vaccine is all I have. This is the only protective measure I can take to protect my kids, now that universal masking and social distancing seems to be merely a fleeting thought in my state. And I’m just as tired of social distancing as you are.

When it comes down to it, the one thing I pray to never experience as a parent is to sit next to a hospital bed, regretting a decision I made for my child. Regretting not getting the only thing that may protect him from this virus. I’ve watched too many parents go through this, and it breaks my heart. And I know what you’re thinking – well what if I have that same regret, except it’s the vaccine’s fault?

Sometimes, when I talk with someone who is nervous about mRNA COVID vaccines, I take for granted the fact that I am a physician. I’ve been trained and educated for years in vaccinations, immunology, how mRNA works, vaccine reactions, statistics, and epidemiology. I am not scared of this vaccine giving my kids COVID, changing my DNA, or giving my kids long-term side effects. Like, at all.

Which leads me to the next component of my decision:

2. Pediatricians know vaccines. Probably better than any other type of physician out there.

As pediatricians, we give thousands of kids vaccines each year. We give more vaccines than any family practitioner or internist, by a landslide. And we field more phone calls and questions about post-vaccine reactions than any other specialty.

We are not worried about this vaccine causing long-term problems in children. Why? Because reactions to vaccines just don’t work that way. If a child is going to have a severe reaction to a vaccine (something so rare I’ve seen literally one time in 12 years of practice– and it was a seizure in a child with a known seizure disorder), it is overwhelmingly going to happen within 6-8 weeks of getting the vaccine.

If the immune system gets “too revved up”, we see the inflammation cause problems – like the rare myocarditis we’ve heard about in young men. And – those few young men who got myocarditis? It was typically mild. They spent a couple days in the hospital and were discharged home, unlike the myocarditis associated with COVID – which is much more common, and can make you much more sick.

The 2000+ children studied in the Pfizer study are now going on over 3 months post-vaccine and are doing great, with not a single severe side effect (including myocarditis). And the dose is 1/3 that of the older kids’ dose, which means it will cause less “revving up”, if you will, while still doing a good job of getting antibodies made.

And let’s not forget the tons of data we already have from adults, and kids 12-15. It looks overwhelmingly positive.

3. I’m not worried about post-vaccine “fertility issues” and you shouldn’t be, either.

Jeez, if there’s one social media myth that I wish would die, it’s this one.

The mRNA COVID vaccines don’t cause infertility.

I’m not diving into the details here, of which there are plenty, but some simple common sense makes me not worried about this for my daughter. As of today, 3.8 BILLION people across the world have had at least one COVID vaccine. The vaccine has been put in human bodies now (starting with the first studies) for over 14 months.

Doesn’t it make sense that if there was this overwhelming effect on fertility, doctors across the world would be noticing? Wouldn’t we notice pregnancy rates going down, miscarriage rates go up, and birth rates drastically reduced? But we haven’t seen that.

“But I’m reading about women whose menstrual cycle changed the month after they got the shot!”

Here’s an insider tip: it’s the immune response that makes cycles a little wonky in the 1-2 months following the COVID vaccine. This is because the menstrual cycle is very sensitive to any change – more exercise, any form of illness, dietary changes – you name it. It is joked in medicine that the wind blowing a certain direction can cause a shift in a woman’s cycles.

Just in case you don’t want to hear it from a pediatrician, I asked my friends, the Obstetricians/Gynecologists over at FENOM Fort Worth, for their input:

Dr. Andrea Palmer: “We see menstrual changes sometimes after vaccination as part of a woman’s immune response. But we’ve seen nothing long term. I’ve seen no increase in infertility in our practice or in nationwide data.”

Dr. Lori Atkins: “The way I like to explain it is, the body will have a natural inflammatory response – and this is short-lived. The lining of the uterus will also respond, so there may be an irregular period for a few months. But there are numerous studies and opinions from reproductive endocrinologists who highly recommend the vaccine as it poses no risk to fertility. At this point, it’s well documented.”

So…I’m just not worried about the vaccine causing fertility issues in my daughter.

4. We have people we love in our family who are immunocompromised.

This point hits a lot closer to home for me, and is something unique to each family’s decision.

We have immunocompromised people in our family whom we love very much, and see often. They are vaccinated. But sometimes, the vaccines don’t work as well in people who are immunocompromised.

Children can spread COVID.

I do not want my children to be the possible source of infection for beloved family members.

Vaccinating my kids will cause less of a chance for them to give others COVID, as there is less of a chance they will carry it or be symptomatic with it (thus less sneezing, coughing, and general viral spread).

5. I care about my community.

I will keep this short and sweet: if vaccinating my kids will lower the chance that your daughter with asthma, or your son with diabetes, or your mother with lupus, will get sick with COVID, then sign me up. I consider this a small part of my journey in trying to love my neighbor (even if we hung different flags on Election Day! Gasp!).

6. My kids are tired of wearing masks.

I mean. Not much else to say here. If my kids are fully vaccinated and the community numbers stay down, we’re eventually going to take them off in school.

7. My kids have missed enough school, and we want to avoid quarantining.

Current CDC recs say if you’re vaccinated and exposed, you don’t have to quarantine unless you’re symptomatic. Less school missed is a great thing.

So there you have it. My many reasons for vaccinating my kids.

I know this was a lot to digest. I think what it whittles down to is this: the most important question in my mind as a mother is: “is the vaccine safer and less risky than COVID infection?”….and I think the answer to that question is yes. Especially when we take family members and community spread into account.

Again, this decision is personal and unique to each family. And I won’t judge you at all if you want to learn more from me before you decide to get it for your kids. I hope my thought process for my own kids helps you with yours.

 

 

 

Get to know Diane Arnaout, M.D., a Cook Children's pediatrician at Forest Park

"I didn’t realize how important the job of the pediatrician was until I had kids of my own. My education, experience in medicine, and cocky attitude made me feel like I knew it all before my first one came around. He proceeded to make me very aware of how little I actually knew.

Thankfully he survived, as did the next one, and they’ve helped me to grow and to help YOU, the parent, in so many ways. Sure I’m here to make sure your kids are healthy and happy at all ages. But I’m also here to make sure you’re educated, to make sure your family is thriving, and to make you feel confident in caring for your kids. From diaper rashes to sleep problems to school difficulties - I’m here to help.

I write a lot about common problems and ailments online – you can find me busy on Facebook and Instagram, and I write articles for the Cook Children’s Checkup Newsroom blog. A lot of stuff you’ll hear me say in the office will be typed out on there, too. And we’re in a day and age where the internet helps make connections – you can connect with me on there, or e-mail me anytime.

It takes a village to raise a child – and I’m so grateful to be a part of yours. And as Master Yoda teaches us – “Always pass on what you have learned.” I fully plan to!"

To schedule an appointment with Dr. Arnaout, click here.