July in Malta has seen the initial Covid-19 vaccinations of children aged 12 to 15 on one hand and a protest led by a number of anti-vaxxers on the other. One did not necessarily cause the other, however for a worrying parent about to decide about vaccinating a young child, this could cause indecision about what to do. As a parent I too feel especially responsible for making decisions that may feel a bit like a jump into the unknown about my child. This has encouraged me to carry out some research about the vaccine and children and I shall use this blog to present what I have found so that I too eventually can make my decision.
- How does the vaccine work?
First off it is very important to understand how a vaccine works. A very useful explanation was provided by Parker-Pope and Blum (2021) who describe the shot as having a:
‘messenger molecule, which is packaged in an oily bubble that fuses to a cell. The cell then uses the mRNA molecule as a set of instructions to make something called a “spike protein,” which protrudes from the cell’s surface. (The surface of the coronavirus is covered with similar spikes.)
A child’s immune system quickly recognizes that the spike protein is a foreign invader, and begins attacking it. The vaccine has essentially trained the immune system to recognize and attack the spike. Now, if your child ever comes into contact with the actual coronavirus, their immune system has learned how to handle it.’
- How safe is the vaccine and what side effects may one expect?
As with adults, the main side effects reported in adolescents have been pain and soreness at the injection site, feeling tired and experiencing chills or fever, muscle pain, headaches and even joint pain. These side effects are usually experienced for around a day or three. Studies which have begun in March of this year have enrolled 2,260 participants aged between 12 and 15 for the Pfizer vaccine and 3,372 participants for the Moderna. From these cohorts, vaccinated children and teens were sick with Covid-19. Even though we do not have long-term data about any lasting side-effects, paediatric experts confidently state that the vaccine is safe since the mRNA molecule imitates a natural human process and is then destroyed by the body, going further to state there are no biological reasons to worry about repercussions on puberty, fertility and brain development. One rare syndrome has emerged in some cases following the administration of the second dose of the vaccine. This syndrome is known as MIS-C, which stands for multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children. This causes fever and inflammation of the heart muscle or the lining of the heart. According to an investigation carried out by Blumenthal and Burns (2020) an emphasis is made on the need to understand better the link between vaccine candidates and the potential for developing MIS-C. The CDC emphasises that ‘the known and potential benefits of COVID-19 vaccination outweigh the known and potential risks, including the possible risk of myocarditis or pericarditis. Also, most patients with myocarditis and pericarditis who received care responded well to treatment and rest and quickly felt better.’
- Given that children are not likely to develop severe illness from Covid-19, should I risk giving them the vaccine?
It is ultimately up to the individual to decide whether or not to take their child to be vaccinated. However, one should keep in mind that even though one doesn’t get vaccinated, there is still a risk for children to be affected with MIS-C and Covid-19. Children may also carry the risk of transmission to other more vulnerable members of their family or community, and thus by vaccinating them, they would also be adding to the community immunity and adding protection against variants of the virus. (Mahase, 2021)
If you think that you can benefit from professional support on this issue you can reach out here.
Abigail Church is a Humanistic Integrative Counsellor who works with adults and children through counselling with Willingness. She can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org or call us on 79291817.
Parker-Pope, T., & Blum, D. (2021, Jun 05). Covid vaccines and children: [national desk]. New York Times Retrieved from https://www-proquest-com.ejournals.um.edu.mt/newspapers/covid-vaccines-children/docview/2537056021/se-2?accountid=27934
Blumenthal, J. A., & Burns, J. P. (2020). Complexities of the COVID‐19 vaccine and multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children. Pediatric Investigation, 4(4), 299-300. doi:http://dx.doi.org.ejournals.um.edu.mt/10.1002/ped4.12232
Mahase, E. (2021). Covid vaccine could be rolled out to children by autumn. BMJ : British Medical Journal (Online), 372 doi:http://dx.doi.org.ejournals.um.edu.mt/10.1136/bmj.n723