Seacoast Moms’ owner Allison Dudas sat down with pediatrician Dr. Alyssa Smith of Pediatric Associates of Hampton and Portsmouth to discuss COVID-19 vaccines for kids. Dr. Smith received her Bachelor of Science in biomedical engineering at Yale University and then went on to University of Pennsylvania for medical school. She did her pediatric residency at Boston Children’s Hospital and Boston Medical Center. She is board certified and a Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics. We are so grateful to Dr. Smith (see her full bio here) for taking the time to speak with us and answer many of the questions our readers submitted.
We answered the questions our readers submitted. While we couldn’t get to every question, we were able to tackle the most frequently asked ones.
1. We’ve heard a number of people say that they think the vaccine will affect girls’ fertility as a reason not to get their daughters vaccinated. Is there any truth to this?
So thus far, there has been no evidence of impact on fertility. People became pregnant while they were in the adult trials.
2. Does my child need a booster shot? Are kids eligible?
Boosters have only been approved for ages 12 and up, around 5 months after receiving their primary series. If you haven’t gotten a booster, do it, because it mattered a lot with Omicron. And now we’re dealing with the BA.2 variant.
3. Knowing that there’s generally an uptick of cases at the start of the school year, should parents consider timing vaccines or boosters to be done in the late summer to ensure that they have the best protection or that their protection is not waning at the start of school?
So, I personally would not recommend holding off on booster, I would go ahead and get it as soon as your child is eligible, because we simply don’t know when the next wave is going to come. We expect that COVID will continue to come in waves and sort of ebb and flow as it has been. So go ahead and get your child boosted and then potentially look again at what’s been approved closer to the school year in terms of more boosters.
4. What are the short- and long-term possible effects of the COVID vaccine? And how can you be absolutely certain that these vaccines are safe for children when we have such limited data on long-term side effects?
I think you can’t talk about the side effects of the vaccine in isolation from the alternative, which is infection with COVID without the benefit of having some mitigation by the vaccine. So, in the short term, if your child has had any other vaccines, we know that commonly they get sore at the injection site, they might feel a little achy or be a little fussy for a few days, they might get a fever. And this is all due to their immune system being activated, which is why we vaccinate – to kind of give the immune system a chance to practice before they encounter infection in the real world. There has been no vaccine to date that has had side effects beyond a few weeks after a vaccination. So, there isn’t any precedent for a vaccine having side effects like years down the road. And it’s not really to be expected with the COVID-19 vaccine either.
5. Why should somebody get their vaccine, get their kids vaccinated if people who are vaccinated can still get COVID?
We did see during Omicron, a lot of kids who had been vaccinated get COVID. But by and large, their cases were mild. And the data, the most recent data on the benefits of vaccinating children is that it keeps them out of the hospital. So up to 74% of hospitalizations are prevented when you’re vaccinated. And so, you’re that much less likely to have to stay overnight. Even on a general pediatrics floor, never mind an intensive care unit with your child.
6. How effective is the vaccine in children under 12, against the new variants of COVID-19?
So if we’re talking about the newest variants, the data is ongoing, but those numbers I just cited regarding hospitalization were for the Omicron wave in January. So we do have some fairly up to date data that it is quite effective, again, at preventing the most serious cases of COVID and the complications that go along with that.
7. Doesn’t getting COVID give kids natural immunity that works just as well as the vaccine?
So it does give immunity, right. It’s funny when we say natural immunity, right? We’re really talking about infection-acquired immunity versus vaccine-acquired immunity. Data has actually shown that if you’ve had COVID, already, you have even better immunity once you get the vaccine. So, the best combo is if you unfortunately already got an infection, but then get vaccinated, that’s the best immunity you can get. We’ve known since early on in COVID, that there’s sort of that 90-day window after an infection where you’re less likely to be reinfected. But for kids with super mild cases with that first infection, and especially when we had the Delta variant, followed by the Omicron variant, with Omicron, prior infection did not protect you as well, whereas the vaccine really did. So, while you can breathe a little bit easier, in the immediate aftermath of like getting through COVID with your child, I would still strongly recommend immunizing if they haven’t already been vaccinated.
8. Can kids get another vaccine, like the flu shot at the same time that they get a COVID vaccine?
Yes, they can. And we do that all the time with all of the other routine childhood immunizations. When they first approved COVID vaccines they did recommend taking a couple of weeks between other vaccines and the COVID vaccine. But that’s in part because that’s how the research studies were structured. They were trying to assess the side effects of the COVID vaccine. But now for a while it’s been approved to get whatever vaccines your child needs, whenever they need it, whether that falls on the same day as a COVID vaccine, within a few days, or much later. So, it’s totally safe and fine. My husband got his flu shot and his COVID vaccine right in the same spot. So, his arm was sore, but it recovered, and he’s protected.
9. If you have children of your own, and I know that you do, what vaccination decision did you make and why?
I have an almost six-year-old and an almost three-year-old. So, my son is not yet eligible for a COVID vaccine. But we’re eagerly awaiting the data that seems to be forthcoming from Pfizer and Moderna on the under-five vaccines. So, my fingers are crossed, he’s going to be eligible in May. And then I’ll have to take a look at the data and see what the recommendations are. But I likely will be vaccinating him just as I did my, at the time, five-year-old daughter.
Catch the full interview with Dr. Smith on COVID vaccines for kids here: