America's top health officials want parents to feel confident in their decision to vaccinate their children against COVID-19.
Motherly spoke with US Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy and Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about the new push to vaccinate adolescents.
One month ago, the FDA authorized, and the CDC recommended, emergency use authorization of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine for children ages twelve and up. That decision opened up the vaccine to approximately 17 million adolescents. So far, about 3.5 million have received one dose.
"In my mind, that's too low. That's too low to protect this population," says CDC Director Dr. Walensky.
"It's true that we've come a long way," adds Surgeon General Murthy, "but COVID still poses a threat to the physical and mental wellbeing of our children. I believe that vaccinating our children is the best way to protect them from this virus and allow them to return to their lives, where they can learn, play and grow."
Both officials say they know that parents just want to make the best decision for the health of their children. So they want to help clear up any confusion surrounding the vaccine.
First, Dr. Walensky wants parents to know that months of research has shown that the vaccine is safe for kids and adults.
"The COVID vaccine is safe. It's free in all communities," she says. "It protects against the disease, and it allows our kids to get safely back to the activities they know and love. It can provide parents and caregivers peace of mind, knowing that their kids are safe, and that their families are safe and protected."
We know that children often suffer less serious side effects from COVID—but the risk to kids is real, says Dr. Murthy.
"COVID is not a benign illness. This is not the flu. We've had thousands of kids who have been hospitalized in our country. We've had hundreds of kids who have died. We have many children who have experienced long COVID symptoms, who have struggled with shortness of breath and fatigue for months. No parent wants their child to go through those experiences and we are not through COVID yet," the Surgeon General emphasized. "That's why it's so important to get our kids vaccinated."
The CDC is investigating "relatively few reports" of myocarditis in vaccinated teens and young adults. That's an inflammation of the heart's tissue that can affect your heart's ability to efficiently pump blood, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Myocarditis is caused by a variety of illnesses—even COVID-19. Experts say there's just not enough information to link these reported cases of Myocarditis to receiving the vaccine.
Dr. Walensky says the CDC is following these cases "very, very carefully." For the most part, the cases have been mild and gone away on their own. "That's good news," she says. "What we're also seeing and indicating is that given the risk of COVID itself and the risk of adverse outcomes related to COVID, we generally still believe that the risk of the disease itself is worse than the risk of the vaccine."
The American Heart Association agrees. The group released a statement, saying that the benefits of the vaccine greatly outweigh the potential risk of developing Myocarditis. And again: there's no proven link between the two.
Dr. Walensky says all three of her children have been vaccinated against COVID-19. Dr. Murthy says that his two kids are too young right now, but if they were older, he would get them vaccinated.
"And here's why," he explains, "on top of knowing the vaccine is highly effective, I also believe the benefits of vaccination far outweigh any risks. And that's something that's easy to forget—that not getting vaccinated is a choice that puts our kids at higher risk of getting COVID."
"As a dad," he adds, "if I have a chance to take a low risk for my child and make it even lower with an effective vaccine, I want to do that."
If you have any concerns about whether the vaccine is right for your child, both health officials recommend bringing them to your family pediatrician. You can also check out the CDC's website or Vaccines.gov for more information.
Dr. Murthy says if we want our children to get back to life as we remember it—with birthday parties and graduations and playdates—parents need to trust in science and in the vaccine.
"These vaccination efforts really move at the speed of trust," he says.