By DIANE XAVIER
The Dallas Examiner
About 41% of the United States population or 134 million people have been fully vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus, according to the latest research collected by Our World in Data group.
Despite these numbers, there are still many individuals skeptical and doubtful about the coronavirus vaccines and people who refuse to take the vaccine due to mistrust.
Moreover, the FDA has recently authorized the use of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for teens ages 12 and older.
Children’s Health has been among the many health facilities offering the vaccines to youth. They started administering the vaccines to youth on May 18 at Children’s Health Speciality Center in Dallas and at Speciality Center on the Children’s Health Plano campus. Additional vaccines have also been administered via pop-up clinics in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Youth 17 years old or younger are required to have a parent or guardian present during vaccine administration time.
However, many parents appear to be just as hesitant to vaccinate their teens, as they have been to receive the vaccination.
In order to tackle the myths and doubts about the vaccine for youth and its safety issues, Children’s Health of Dallas hosted a virtual town hall meeting for parents, patients and community members May 25.
The forum was hosted by Dr. Dawn Johnson, medical director for Children’s Health Pediatric Group, and Dr. Jeffrey Kahn, chief of infectious disease at Children’s Health and a professor at UT Southwestern.
“We also know that there are many questions about the safety and efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccine on those 12 years and older, as well as the impact of the virus on adolescents,” Johnson said. “The vaccine requires two doses, the same as for adults. One on day one and then another one in 21 days to 42 days. The safety of our patients, their families and our communities remains our top priority. We would not offer a vaccine to your family, to my family, to our own children that we do not believe to be scientifically safe and effective.”
Johnson said there are many reasons to vaccinate youth even if their risk of getting a severe illness or death from the coronavirus is low.
“The risk of severe illness or death from COVID-19 infection in children is low but it is not zero,” she said. “We know that children get infected, they get sick, some of them get hospitalized and that they may spread it to people from their families and in their communities. We are encouraging families to get this vaccination for their children so that we can reopen our state and our nation with more confidence that we are safe and protected, especially those that are vulnerable among us. Although our children may not become severely ill at the rates that adults do, we know that they come into contact with people who may be vulnerable to COVID-19. … the COVID-19 vaccine is safe and recommended for children with chronic health conditions, especially those with diabetes, uncontrolled asthma, sickle cell disease, cancers, cystic fibrosis, kidney disease and more.”
Who should be vaccinated?
Many have questioned if youth who have already had COVID-19 should get the vaccine.
“Absolutely yes,” Johnson stated emphatically. “We are learning that immunity after disease wanes, likely much faster then immunity after being vaccinated. We know that people are becoming reinfected after 90 days or so. It is possible that you can be reinfected after disease. Children’s COVID-19 immune response appears to be stronger than the one naturally present in people who have had COVID-19.”
Johnson then discussed possible side effects for youth, saying they were very similar to that of adults; chills, fever, headache, pain at the site of the vaccination and fatigue were possible. However, she stated that the benefits of the vaccine outweighted the downside of contracting or passing on the virus, including getting closer to a normal lifestyle, making schools and workplaces safer, decreasing isolation, etc.
“We know as pediatricians that this past year and a few months has been devastating to our children and families in ways that we did not anticipate, such as increased school failure, increase in mental health challenges such as depression, anxiety, fear, problems with weight gain and in some cases eating disorders such as anorexia. So it is important that we vaccinate and get our children back to normal protecting our community.”
Johnson anticipated all or most youth returning to in-person school at some point – most likely in the fall.
“We want to protect our teachers, our daycare workers, and other adults who may become infected and have severe outcomes from the COVID-19 virus,” she said. “Protecting and preventing us from developing and acquiring COVID-19 variants. The vaccination we are learning stops the spread of COVID-19 and helps to prevent the variants becoming entrenched in our country and in our city and it also perhaps prevents more mutations of the virus.”
Johnson concluded that the vaccine improves the well-being of youth.
“By vaccinating children, it reduces outbreaks and communities can move one step closer to regular and non-interruptive school schedules for extracurricular activities , graduations, going off to college, getting married, attending weddings, having babies and baby showers, all of those things that we missed so much,” she said.
Following the science
Kahn then discussed the science behind the COVID-19 vaccines during the last 15 months, in the United States.
“When the virus first hit, there was an initial peak in April 2020 and a much larger peak in the summer and of course the third wave and the most significant peak occurred in December and January,” Kahn said.
Kahn showed a graph of the trend of the virus in the U.S. and said the trends are going down now.
“In fact, over the last month or so we have seen a dramatic decrease in the circulation of the virus,” he said. “Undoubtedly, this is a result of some of the vaccine efforts that have been going on in this country. As of May 24, the numbers are 33 million infections in the United States. About 600,000 deaths due to COVID which is really quite astonishing. And if you do the math, one in every 561 individuals in the United States have died of COVID-19.”
He explained that Texas experienced a peak in infections during the summer months and a very large peak in December and January.
“The general trend according to this graph is that there is a downward trend of those infected with the virus now in the state of Texas,” Kahn said. “However, data also shows that there are currently variants of the virus circulating here in Dallas County and the newest one that has appeared in Dallas is the B1617-2 variant. That’s the variant right now circulating through India and they are having a horrible time there with COVID.”
He then offered the official recommendation from the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, a group that sets vaccine recommendations for all child and adult vaccinations.
“This is their publication that was sent out about 11 days ago, and I want to note one thing on this slide,” Kahn noted. “And that is as of May 12, 2021, approximately 141 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine had been administered in the United States to persons 16 years of age and older, so we have a wealth of information about this vaccine. There are now dozens of studies coming out to look at the safety and effectiveness of this vaccine, one because it’s relatively recent, this is looking at the vaccine effectiveness of the Pfizer and the Moderna vaccine among healthy health care personnel.”
Kahn explained what the vaccine effectiveness was in real life for recent health care providers being exposed to COVID-19.
“You can see here the vaccine effectiveness is anywhere from 93% to 94% and this is a really astonishing achievement, and this puts these vaccines at the most effective of all vaccines that we have,” he said. “So this is really tremendous news here and to think just a year ago we were just at the beginning of the pandemic and struggling and just to think that now we have two vaccines, and now a third vaccine that is this effective is really quite an accomplishment.”
Kahn felt it was important note that the vaccine was not an infection, and no one could get can’t get COVID-19 from the vaccine. The the forementioned possible side effects was the body’s typical response to developing an immune response to the vaccine. Furthermore, “It is not gene therapy. It does not alter DNA.”
Myths vs. facts
“There’s been a lot of stuff out there and a lot of it’s not true, but these are synthetic molecules that the vaccines are composed of,” he said. “There are no animal products used in manufacturing these vaccines and no fetal tissues are used in the production of these vaccines. And the data are showing that the vaccine actually is quite safe as it is for the vast majority of people who are getting the vaccine. So other than some local side effects and a day of fatigue, some people have experienced low grade fevers. After two or three days of getting the vaccine, there are really no side effects.”
Kahn recommended not to rely solely on the internet and social media about the vaccine.
“There’s a lot of stuff out there on the internet and social media that is blatantly, literally false information,” he said. “This one particular topic has really baffled me. So there is this world that in this street and in this social media platform that says mRNA vaccines are linked to infertility, and even if you just step back and think about this for a second, connect the dots because the vaccines were first approved for use in December of 2020 just six months ago, and I started hearing this, in January, so how can we possibly know in January when the vaccines were approved in December that the vaccine is the cause of infertility. This is blatantly untrue. I have two daughters who are in their mid 20’s and I strongly encourage them to get the vaccine. I’m not worried about this. I do want to become a grandfather one day, but anyway I recommended to them and then they got the vaccine.”
“The point here is that when these variants enter a population, they can easily become the dominant variants in the population,” he said. “So for example, the B117 variant, also known as the UK variant, in February, was about five to 10% of viruses isolated, now it’s the vast majority of virus life, and if you look at the map on the right there that shows you the variant distribution of the country. Here in Texas and the surrounding states, it is mostly the B117 variant.”
Kahn discussed where we are now as a country regarding COVID-19 and its impact on youth.
“As of May 20, there have been over 3.9 million children who have tested positive for COVID,” Kahn said. “That’s a very large number. You know there’s a lot of talk out there about children don’t get COVID. That is clearly untrue because 3.9 million children got COVID. Children represent 14% of the total number of cases of COVID in the United States. Over 16,000 children have been hospitalized due to COVID. And this is actually a lot more hospitalizations than we typically see in the flu season. And greater than 300 children have died of COVID and now COVID represents one of the top ten leading causes of death in children in the United States. So I think these numbers are quite sobering, the fact that children can get infected, they can get sick, get hospitalized and sadly, 300 children have died because of COVID.”
“These viruses are unpredictable. We don’t know how they’re going to behave, we know that these new variants are going to emerge and they can continue to emerge. This reminds me of why we make the effort to immunize children because we don’t know as these new variants emerge whether the virus will be more pathogenic if you will or virulent in children.”