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Thanks to the COVID-19 vaccine, local schools are inviting teachers and students back to the classroom for the upcoming school year. While many families and kids anxiously await the return to normalcy, the highly-contagious Delta variant reminds us that the pandemic is still not over. With COVID-19 cases on the rise again, it’s important to remain vigilant in keeping kids healthy as they go back to school.
Vaccination is the best way to protect kids from COVID-19 at school.
If your child is headed back to the classroom, you may be worried about your child contracting the virus. As COVID-19 cases surge across the country, vaccination is as important as ever, especially for kids who will be in close contact with their peers at school in the fall. With 93 percent of all new COVID-19 cases in the United States caused by the Delta variant, coronavirus is still permeating our communities, vaccinated or not. While pediatric hospitalizations remain low, the Delta variant seems to affect children more than the COVID-19 virus we battled last summer.
You may not have control over whether or not the virus spreads to your child. But, if your child is vaccinated, they’re far less likely to become severely ill or hospitalized. That’s why the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends vaccination for everyone above the age of 12. Unvaccinated kids are at a greater risk of developing serious symptoms if they become infected with COVID-19. This is especially true for kids with a chronic illness, such as asthma, diabetes, or sickle cell anemia.
If your child is over the age of 12 and still unvaccinated, it’s not too late. To be considered fully vaccinated, your child will need two doses of the Pfizer vaccine over a period of 21 days. While eligible children should ideally get vaccinated before the school year begins, getting the first dose of the vaccine as soon as possible will ensure some protection as they await the second dose.
The COVID-19 vaccine can be given alongside other childhood vaccines.
Schools have always had health prerequisites for childhood vaccines to keep everyone safe, and the COVID-19 vaccine is no different. While initial vaccine recommendations suggested that people wait two weeks after getting other vaccines before getting vaccinated for COVID-19, you no longer need to wait. As your child is getting other required vaccines in anticipation of school, they can also receive the COVID-19 vaccine, if they’re 12 or older.
Most MedStar Health primary care and pediatric offices offer the COVID-19 vaccine. If your doctor’s office isn’t offering the vaccine, they can direct you to a vaccination site nearby.
Addressing vaccine hesitancy.
As a parent or caregiver of a school-aged child, it’s common to overthink decisions related to your kids. We want the best for our children, and the misinformation around COVID-19 circulating the Internet can cause us to doubt ourselves.
If you’re hesitant to vaccinate your child or if you come across someone who is, the following tips can encourage an informed decision.
Review the data.
While the COVID-19 vaccines have been labeled for emergency use, they’re not “experimental”, as some might think. Researchers have been studying and investing in mRNA technology for years. And, the COVID-19 vaccines have been rigorously tested and evaluated for safety and efficacy. You can read Pfizer’s published reports on their clinical trials and the CDC continues to provide the most up-to-date information on their website.
Get the facts on side effects.
Experts agree that the risk of illness is more severe than any side effect of vaccination for both adults and kids. Children have robust immune systems and side effects after vaccination indicate that the vaccine is working. Just like the flu shot and other vaccines, children may experience injection site soreness, fatigue, or headaches after getting vaccinated for COVID-19. Tylenol or Motrin can help alleviate discomfort.
Although extremely rare, there are instances where the vaccine results in short-term inflammation of the heart, called myocarditis. In these cases, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, or chest pain may appear within seven days after the second dose. Symptoms typically self-resolve and there are no long-term effects. Talk to your child’s doctor if they experience any side effects that seem abnormal.
Discuss any concerns your child has.
From videos circulating on Tik Tok to classroom rumors, your child may be susceptible to believing myths or false narratives spreading across their peers. Invite an open dialogue where they can be honest about what they’re hearing so you can dispel any false information with the truth.
Talk to your child’s doctor.
If you’re concerned about getting your child vaccinated, talk to their pediatrician. They’ll also be happy to address any questions or hesitancies that your child may have about getting the COVID-19 vaccine.
MedStar Health associate Shreejana Pokharel decided to get her 13-year old daughter vaccinated, but it wasn’t an easy decision. “It was challenging to decide,” she notes. “But the study data published by Pfizer was convincing, as the vaccine was 100% effective among children.” She also had a heart-to-heart conversation with her daughter who had concerns because of her peers’ experiences. Shreejana was able to explain the benefits of the vaccine while addressing false rumors her daughter had heard. At the end of the discussion, her daughter said, “Mommy, I hate needles, but I’m excited for this one so I can go back to school safely”.
How can I keep my child safe at school if they’re ineligible for vaccination?
Nearly half of Americans remain unvaccinated against the novel coronavirus, including 48 million children under the age of 12 who are ineligible for vaccination. Yet returning to face-to-face education is important for the social wellbeing of our children. MedStar Health Pediatrician Tia Medley, MD witnessed firsthand the negative social impact on kids who didn’t attend school in person last year. She encourages the parents of her patients to attend school in person this year, regardless of vaccination status, provided that the school is actively ensuring safety through other means.
48 million children are currently ineligible to get the #COVID19Vaccine. On the #LiveWellHealthy blog, learn how you can protect them as they head #BackToSchool: https://bit.ly/3zhlzl9.
Even if your child is ineligible for vaccination, it’s still possible to return to school safely. As an adult, getting vaccinated yourself can reduce the likelihood that you contract the virus and spread it to your children. And, with the proper protocols in place, schools can mitigate the risk of a major outbreak. Ensure your child’s school and teacher is:
- Encouraging mask-wearing inside the building
- Facilitating social distancing when possible
- Providing frequent opportunities for hand-washing and sanitizing
- Actively screening and monitoring kids with symptoms
- Sending kids with symptoms home and ensuring health before they return to school
If your child has the sniffles or is showing any sign of illness, keep them home. While it may just be the common cold, it’s important to be abundantly cautious to minimize the spread of the virus in the classroom.
To learn more, watch our Facebook Live video below:
Consider participating in a local clinical trial.
Currently, Pfizer and Moderna are both conducting clinical trials for kids under the age of 12 across three age groups, including:
- Six months to two years
- Two to five years
- Five to twelve years
Pfizer and Moderna expect to have results for the older cohort later this fall. And, both offer clinical trials within the Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C. region. If you have a child between the ages of six months and 12 years, you may consider participating in a trial. Doing so would offer a 50 percent chance of your child getting vaccinated.
Stay healthy and have a terrific school year.
Widespread vaccination is the best way to keep kids safe from COVID-19, if they’re eligible. But if your child is under 12, it’s still possible for them to stay safe and healthy this school year, as long as their school establishes and enforces good screening and prevention protocols that minimize the spread of COVID-19.
As your kids head back to school during a worldwide pandemic, remind them that their class is a community. Wearing a mask and getting vaccinated can protect both themselves and the other members in their community from COVID-19.