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Vaccines can prevent more than 20 life-threatening diseases, as well as serious COVID-19 infections.
The CDC and FDA have approved and recommended vaccination against COVID-19 for children as young as six months.
A Swedish pediatrician explains why recommended vaccinations for children are critical to their health — and yours.
There’s plenty to do to get your child ready to head back to class at the end of summer. Your to-do list likely includes shopping for school supplies and new clothes. But is “get recommended vaccinations” one of the tasks?
Whether your child needs a regular routine vaccination or the one for COVID-19, keeping up with their immunizations is important. It protects both them and your family from avoidable illnesses. To help you understand how vaccines work, as well as the importance of these vaccines — including the newer ones for COVID-19 — we talked with Elizabeth Meade, M.D., FAAP, Medical Director of Education, Outreach and Quality for Pediatrics at Swedish Medical Center.
Understanding vaccines and how they work
Vaccines can prevent more than 20 life-threatening diseases, and they save between two to three million lives globally every year. Most vaccines are given during childhood, but there are several that are recommended during adulthood as well.
Vaccines teach your body to fight infection in two ways. Most work by introducing a small, harmless bit of a virus or germ into your body. Others, such as the COVID-19 vaccine, use messenger RNA (mRNA) to give your body specific instructions on combating infection.
“Vaccines prime our immune system to recognize a virus or bacteria more easily,” Dr. Meade says. “They help you really develop a specific immune response to these infectious agents.”
Following vaccine schedules to protect kids
Nationwide, state laws mandate children, of various ages, have some vaccines before they can attend school. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers a vaccine schedule to help you stay on track.
With so much emphasis on vaccinations for children in kindergarten through elementary school, it can be easy to forget your child will also need vaccinations in high school and even college, Dr. Meade says. Many colleges require the meningitis vaccine for enrollment, and most recommend the HPV vaccine.
Even though state law requires vaccines, you may still have concerns about whether vaccines are safe. To determine vaccine safety and effectiveness, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) puts all potential vaccines through a rigorous testing process, and they track any bad outcomes through the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System.
“It’s still most important to talk with your child’s doctor about any specific questions or concerns you have,” she says. “I always share with parents the data we have about vaccines that pertains to the age of their child.”
Providing the COVID-19 vaccine for kids
COVID-19 has been the biggest infectious disease concern over the past several years. Vaccinating your child against this virus is the most effective way to protect them from developing serious illness if they’re exposed. It also protects all the adults in your home since children spend several hours a day at school. Currently, the FDA has approved the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines for use in kids.
As of June 21, the CDC has approved the vaccine for children as young as 6 months. Children aged 5 and up are also eligible to receive booster shots five months after they’ve received their first two vaccine doses. The vaccine is free, and children receive a kid-sized dose based upon their age group. Note also that as of October 12, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) authorized updated bivalent COVID-19 boosters for children to protect against emerging strains of the virus.
Some side effects, including a sore arm and fatigue, are possible and generally mild. Overall, Dr. Meade says, the vaccine protects children from severe illness and limits the need for any intensive care.
“It’s important to remember that, while this vaccine is quite effective in children, it isn’t 100% effective. It’s just like the flu vaccine — it’s not going to prevent everyone from getting an infection,” she says. “We have a good amount of data, though, particularly with older children that the vaccine does prevent children from getting very sick and dying from COVID.”
Vaccinating kids under age 5
Swedish pediatricians strongly encourage parents to follow the CDC and FDA recommendation to vaccinate children as young as 6 months old against COVID-19 — even if they’ve already had COVID-19. While children generally don’t get as sick as adults, they are still at risk for multi-system inflammatory syndrome (MIS-C), as well as “long COVID.”
“I’ve seen a number of sick children during the pandemic. Young kids, babies and adolescents can get very ill and be hospitalized on oxygen in the intensive care unit,” Dr. Meade says. “Our data on the protection provided by the vaccine is very reassuring. Parents should feel confident that most vaccinated children who get COVID are not going to get extremely sick.”
The Pfizer vaccine requires three doses, and Moderna only requires two. If your child needs other routine immunizations, it’s safe to get them at the same time as the COVID vaccine. If you prefer to space the vaccinations out, though, talk with your pediatrician about scheduling the shots to keep your child protected.
Find a doctor
If you have questions about vaccinations for your child, contact Pediatrics at Swedish. We can accommodate both in-person and virtual visits.
Whether you require an in-person visit or want to consult a doctor virtually, you have options. Swedish Virtual Care connects you face-to-face with a nurse practitioner who can review your symptoms, provide instruction and follow up as needed. If you need to find a doctor, you can use our provider directory.
Join our Patient and Family Advisory Council.
Understanding how vaccines work (from the CDC)
12 tips for easing kids’ pain, anxiety while getting COVID vaccine or a shot of any kind (from The Seattle Times)
This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.