On Friday June 24, the Calvert County Health Department will begin offering Covid vaccinations for children under age 6. As both health professionals and parents, we understand how important upcoming decisions are to families across our community. It is our hope that the following information will help answer important questions as you do your best to keep your children healthy and safe.
We realize that parents will make their own decisions on whether to have their children
vaccinated. The Calvert Health Department’s goals are:
1) to provide parents with the most accurate and up-to-date information available; and
2) to provide access to care for parents who are ready to have their children vaccinated
This post is relatively lengthy. The amount of information is in recognition of the importance of
the decision parents will make, and the need to be well-informed. A lot of misleading and
incorrect information shows up on the internet. It is important to us that Calvert parents have
access to accurate and unbiased information. No tweet or brief social media post can provide
the guidance needed by thoughtful parents.
The Calvert Health Department and Health Department leadership have no financial or
personal ties to Moderna, Pfizer, or other vaccine manufacturers.
Please see the last section of this post for an explanation of which vaccine will be available
through our Health Department. Many local doctor’s offices are also providing vaccinations.
Registration for vaccination with the Health Department will begin very soon. The registration
database is maintained by the Maryland Department of Health and should be ready for parents to schedule appointments in the next day or two.
Here are key reasons to consider vaccination for your child:
Children are susceptible to Covid infection. Well over 2 million cases of Covid infections have occurred in U.S. children under age 5.
More hospitalizations (over 20,000 young children) and deaths (over 400) occurred in this age group as a result of Covid infections than from any other infectious disease.
Covid hospitalizations during a typical 4-month window of the pandemic have been 2-3 times higher than influenza hospitalizations during any flu season over the past decade.
There have also been 2-3 times more deaths per year from Covid than from a typical influenza season.
During the Omicron wave, children under age 5 had a significantly higher rate of hospitalization than older children or teens. This is likely due in large part to a lack of vaccination in the youngest age group.
More than half of hospitalized children (63%) had no underlying health conditions.
Children are susceptible to long-term health problems from Covid infections. Most studies show >5% of infected children will have symptoms lasting longer than 1 month.
Over the past 2 ½ years, Covid is the single leading cause of death among American children younger than age 6.
Both Moderna and Pfizer vaccines show effectiveness in young children comparable to that in older children and adults.
Safety studies for both vaccines were very reassuring, with only one child in each study having a serious reaction out of 8,000 children vaccinated (see below for details). There were no cases of myocarditis. There were no deaths among vaccinated children.
Mild fevers and irritability occur in <10% of children after vaccination. This is comparable to other routine pediatric vaccinations.
Here are areas where current information cannot provide definitive answers:
Due to limited follow up studies and the unpredictability of circulating Covid variants, exact effectiveness in disease prevention and hospitalizations cannot be calculated. The best current evidence indicates that:
Vaccination of children under age 5 will reduce symptomatic infections by 40-50%. This is consistent with effectiveness for older age groups against the currently circulating Covid variants.
Based on longer-term data in older populations, it is likely that vaccination of young children will reduce illnesses severe enough to result in hospitalization by 70-75%.
Safety data was judged to be very reassuring by pediatric and infectious disease experts at the FDA and CDC. “Desirable consequences of vaccination clearly outweigh the undesirable effects.” The American Academy of Pediatrics strongly supported approval of the vaccines for young children. However, until hundreds of thousands of children are vaccinated, definitive statements on benefits and risks cannot be made. There was one child in each manufacturer’s study that had fevers high enough to require brief hospitalization. One of these children also had a seizure episode after her first vaccine dose. Seizures are known to rarely occur with other routine child vaccines. Decades of follow up research has shown that fever-induced seizures do not result in long-term health problems. This child’s parents chose for her to receive a second vaccination. She did not have any reaction following that dose.
What else should parents consider?
Children with many types of underlying health conditions (chronic respiratory problems, including asthma, conditions that impair the immune system, sickle cell disease, genetic conditions, cancer, etc.) are at greater risk for complications due to a Covid infection. Vaccination has additional benefits for such children, and parents should discuss vaccination with their child’s physician.
For households with immunocompromised older children or adults, decreasing the infection rate for any family member helps protect everyone.
Under current CDC guidance, anyone who is up to date on vaccinations are exempt from quarantine in daycare and school settings.
We now have 2 years of data on vaccinations in older populations. Although findings in adult and adolescent populations do not always translate to pediatric populations, no new side effects have occurred outside of the initial study period in these age groups. This also holds for all other pediatric vaccinations (influenza, measles, chicken pox, etc.). No new side effects have been discovered after initial FDA approval of other pediatric vaccinations.
It is very likely that children in this age range will require a booster dose several months after their initial vaccination series to optimize longer term protection. Even though Pfizer’s initial series is 3 doses, many national experts have expressed opinions that an additional dose will be needed. Both Pfizer and Moderna are beginning booster trials, so more information will be available in late 2022 or early 2023.
Rumors that mRNA vaccines alter a person’s genes are completely FALSE. Our genes are only present in the nucleus. The mRNA in vaccines cannot enter the nucleus of cells and in no way interact with our DNA. Also, mRNA leads to the production of proteins in our bodies, not the production DNA. Rumors of genetic alteration have absolutely no scientific basis.
Rumors that mRNA vaccines alter human reproduction are completely FALSE. Not only is there no plausible mechanism for mRNA vaccines to impact any part of reproduction in either females or males, 2 years of follow up studies have documented that people receiving mRNA vaccines are just as likely to have healthy pregnancies as those who are not vaccinated. mRNA vaccines also have no impact on a teen’s normal transition through puberty.
Rumors that previous infection with Covid provide protection against future Covid (natural immunity) that is equal or better than protection provided by vaccination is FALSE. Multiple studies in the U.S. and other countries have clearly established that vaccination produces better and longer lasting protection against infection than natural immunity from a previous infection. For children under age 5 who have been previously infected with Covid, studies show vaccination increases antibody levels 40-50 times higher than previously infected children who remain unvaccinated.
Statements that scientists and physicians don’t understand the way in which mRNA vaccines work in the human body are FALSE. Although Covid vaccines are the first widely used mRNA vaccines, research on the development of these vaccines began over 30 years ago. The way in which mRNA vaccines produce immunity in humans is far better understood than the way that polio and measles vaccines worked when they were introduced in the 1950’s and 1960’s. It was this understanding of how mRNA provides the blueprint for protein production in our cells’ cytoplasm that led to the idea of safe and effective mRNA vaccines. For more information, you can see our Health Department post from January 2021 explaining how mRNA vaccines work: https://www.calvertcountycovid19.com/post/covid-19-vaccines-how-do-they-work-will-i-get-vaccinated
Just as there is no plausible means for mRNA vaccines to alter our genes or interfere
with reproduction, there is no plausible means by which mRNA vaccines would alter
children’s normal development. As noted above, the foremost U.S. pediatric experts at
the CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics have endorsed mRNA vaccines for all
children 6-months and older.
It bears noting that similar to influenza, measles, and whooping cough vaccines, children
younger than 6-months of age cannot mount an immune response to Covid vaccination.
This is why vaccine approval doesn’t include this age group. The best way to protect
newborns is for women to receive vaccination while pregnant. Multiple studies have
proven that maternal antibodies produced as a result of vaccination cross the placenta
and provide protection to newborns. This protection continues for months after the
baby is born.
Which Vaccine Will Be Available at the Health Department and Why?
The Calvert County Health Department will provide vaccination with the Moderna formulation.
The main reason we are administering only one vaccine formulation is to minimize the potential for dosing errors. Formulations for both Moderna and Pfizer in this age range are different than formulations for older children. The Pfizer formulation shipped to medical providers requires dilution prior to administration; Moderna does not. Moderna requires 2 doses spaced 1 month apart. Pfizer vaccinations are a different dose than Moderna. Pfizer also requires a 3-dose regimen involving an initial dose followed by a second dose 3 weeks later and then a third dose approximately 3 months after the initial dose.
It is extremely important to our staff to ensure the safety of every child presenting for
vaccination. By limiting vaccination to one product, we reduce the potential for any
inadvertent dosing errors. Along these lines, during hours that we are offering vaccinations to
this age range, we will not be vaccinating older children, adolescents, or adults. Again, this
prevents the potential for unintentional administration errors.
Moderna offers the following advantages for families vaccinating at a public health facility:
1) Achieves protection sooner than Pfizer;
2) One less shot for children; and
3) One less appointment for busy parents to schedule.
It is important to note that Pfizer’s press release claimed an 80% effectiveness vs. 40-50%
effectiveness from Moderna. The FDA and CDC made it clear that the study data are not
sufficient to prove Pfizer’s claims of such a high level of protection against symptomatic
infection. The best available data indicate that the protection from 2 doses of Moderna and 3
doses of Pfizer are likely to be very similar, and close to the 40-50% vaccine effectiveness seen in teens and adults against the latest Omicron variants. After careful review of the study data, physicians at the Calvert Health Department agree with the FDA and CDC experts. If parents have additional questions about Moderna vs. Pfizer, they should contact their child’s healthcare provider.
Once the Maryland Dept. of Health activates appointment links for children under age 6 later
this week, parents can schedule appointments through our website. The first date of
availability will be Friday June 24.