Do Infants and Young Children Need a COVID Vaccine?
Young children are the least vaccinated group. Why are most parents reluctant to vaccinate them?
On February 13, 2024, National Geographic will be publishing a book I wrote called, TELL ME WHEN IT’S OVER: AN INSIDER’S GUIDE TO DECIPHERING COVID MYTHS AND NAVIGATING OUR POST-PANDEMIC WORLD. For a few months, I will be writing about various issues discussed in that book.
As of October 2023, the age group most likely to be hospitalized were adults over 65. Second, were adults over 50. Third, were children under 4. Older adults, such as those over 50, were more likely to be hospitalized because they had health problems that increased their risk of severe COVID. But why healthy, young children? The reason that young children were hospitalized wasn’t because they hadn’t been boosted; it was because they hadn’t been vaccinated. Only 4 percent of children less than 4 have completed the primary COVID vaccine series. And most parents now say that they don’t plan to get a vaccine for their young child. Parents who resist vaccinating their children make the following arguments—none of which are supported by the facts:
1. Children don’t suffer severe COVID. As of January 2023, COVID was the leading cause of death in children due to an infectious disease and the eighth most common cause of death overall. The death rate was 4.3 per 100,000 for children less than one year of age and 0.6 per 100,000 for children 1 to 4 years of age. Hundreds of children have died from COVID. Children can also be hospitalized or admitted to the intensive care unit with croup, bronchiolitis, or viral pneumonia. “Everyone knows that COVID is the most severe in the elderly and immunocompromised and that it’s less severe in children,” said Sean O’Leary, head of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Committee on Infectious Diseases. “But that does not mean it’s a benign disease in children. Just because the numbers are so much lower in children doesn’t mean that they’re not impactful.”
2. COVID vaccines haven’t been proven to be effective in young children. In a study of more than 7,000 children between 6 months and 4 years of age published in December 2023, COVID vaccines clearly prevented emergency department visits and hospitalizations.
3. COVID vaccines aren’t safe for young children: A recent study of about 250,000 doses of COVID vaccines given to children less than 5 years of age revealed no serious safety concerns, including myocarditis (i.e., inflammation of the heart muscle).
4. The CDC shouldn’t have added COVID vaccines to the routine childhood vaccine schedule now that the pandemic is over. In February 2023, the CDC added COVID vaccines to the routine childhood vaccine schedule to be given as early as 6 months of age. Many parents didn’t understand, and some were angry, about this addition. The move was made for several reasons: (1) Although the pandemic is over, the virus isn’t. Some strains of human coronaviruses, like SARS-CoV-2, have been circulating for centuries. It is likely that SARS-CoV-2 virus will be circulating for years if not decades if not longer. (2) Most mothers have been vaccinated or naturally infected or both. Therefore, they will transfer protective antibodies from the placenta to their newborn. By six months of age, however, those antibodies will fade, and children will be fully susceptible to a virus that continues to circulate. Vaccination is always better than natural infection.
Young children are among the groups most vulnerable to COVID. Given current estimates, hundreds of young children will be hospitalized every year with COVID because they are unvaccinated. At this point, the choice to vaccinate young children should be an easy one.
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