For many parents, especially ones with children under 12 years old who are not yet eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine, trying to navigate how to keep children safe during the pandemic hasn’t been easy. With FDA approval for emergency use authorization of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID vaccine in children ages 5 to 11 anticipated in the coming weeks, some parents may be wondering about the vaccine in kids and have questions about safety and side effects. With that in mind, Yahoo Life tapped Dr. Jessica Kiss, better known as AskDrMom to her 20,000 followers on TikTok, a family medicine physician and mom of four who has been sharing health information on the platform to help educate others.
JESSICA KISS: I'm Jessica Kiss. I am a family medicine physician, but some people know me better under ask Dr. Mom. I'm a mom to four. And since the pandemic started, I've gotten a lot of questions about what's going on with COVID and their families. Here's what I get asked the most.
What your parents know about the COVID vaccine for children ages 5 to 11, and how safe is it? First of all, Pfizer has already shown data that shows it's a pretty safe vaccination. It looks like it's as safe as giving it to older children. Your kids in that age group will get a smaller dose than the older kids and adults. And it's been proven to show just as good of an immune response.
For the COVID vaccine for kids, what potential side effects do parents need to be aware of, and how can they prepare their kids for it? They're pretty much the same side effects as you would see in an adult. So they could in the first 24 hours have headache, have a little tummy ache, or even a small fever. But it should go away within that 24 hour period, just like with older kids and adults.
How does the COVID vaccine impact menstruation? If you've ever been sick as a woman or a person who menstruates in general, you might notice that your menstrual cycle was kind of wacky. It can be longer, shorter, and just strange in general. This is not going to be dissimilar with COVID-19. The risk of this seems to be pretty small, and it does not impair fertility by having a strange menstrual cycle once. So in my opinion, parents with daughters should not wait to get the vaccination.
How dangerous is it if your child isn't yet eligible for the COVID vaccination and their babysitter or childcare provider is unvaccinated? If you are in that situation, you need to make sure all other factors are accounted for. Meaning those workers are masking consistently around your children and others outside of their care. Meaning that when they go out, they're wearing masks, that they're social distancing, and they're limiting contact and exposure with others.
If your babysitter is vaccinated, is it safe for your sitter to watch your unvaccinated child? If your family is at higher risk for complications from COVID-19, the person who is watching your child and vaccinated could still get exposed and spread COVID-19 to your unvaccinated child, and thus for the rest of your family. If you trust that that person who is vaccinated is masking consistently and doing all the other things right around the unvaccinated person, it may be OK for them to continue to watch your child, depending upon your family risk.
How much protection can your child get from breast milk from a vaccinated mom? It is possible for there to be protection from antibodies from a vaccinated mom to pass in milk to a child. There's an asterisk to that, though. It looks like in general, that concentration is going to be highest and most affected in younger babies nursing, but that research is still pending.
And anecdotally too, I got my second COVID vaccination January 10th. I was still nursing my almost three-year-old, knowing that I was a front line worker and was potentially putting her at risk, and if I had antibodies whatsoever, I was going to give it to her. So I tested my own breast milk in my office at that point, before there was any of this research. I was screaming when I saw that there were antibodies. And that's because antibodies in breast milk at a high enough level could be significant to help develop immunity.
What's your message to parents who are unsure about vaccinating their kids against COVID? So I got to be honest with you, I was a little worried about doing it too. My kids are actually all involved in the clinical trials. Three of my kids are in the 5 to 11, and my two-year-old isn't under 5.
And I will tell you, I was worried at first because of fear of the unknown. But I knew in my heart that it was OK because it had been proven safe for older kids, and the dosage is much smaller in children that are younger. So that's the first thing.
The second thing is, any time you're worried about anything with your child's health, you really should contact your health care provider. That is what we are here for. That is our job. And we do it day in and day out. If you don't have someone you are comfortable with, you need to find somebody you can discuss it with that is in health care.