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COVID-19 Vaccination and Younger Children

Submitted by Dr. John Maddox, Pediatrician, Pentucket Medical/Haverhill

Now that those age 16 years and older are able to receive the COVID vaccine, pediatricians are fielding questions about when younger children will be next.

Vaccines typically spend years being studied for effectiveness and safety. That process was understandably expedited due to the lives being lost due to COVID illness. COVID’s is the first vaccine to ever be approved under the Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) process. As with any medical treatment, there is always a balance between benefit and risk. Every treatment carries some risk that must be considered in comparison to its benefit.

The risks of the vaccine for an individual age 65 and older are much, much lower than the risks of COVID. That math is very different for children under age 16, where the risk of death from COVID is one tenth of one percent. Even the risk of the treatable multi-inflammatory syndrome (MIS-C) is 2 per 100,000 — which means that most pediatricians will never see a case. For children, we will have the luxury of time when evaluating the effectiveness and safety of the COVID vaccine.

Until most adults have been vaccinated, we need to continue general mask-wearing and social distancing. But children can safely return to their childhood, including in-person school, without delay. Immunizing children has always been an important piece of preventing infectious diseases and building herd immunity, but we can focus our attention now on vaccinating as many adults as soon as possible.