As a pediatrician of 35 years and a public health leader, I understand that parents only want the best for their children, and that many are questioning whether they should get their children vaccinated against COVID-19 when the vaccines become available.
I wholeheartedly believe that the COVID-19 vaccines are safe for our children and that they represent our way out of this pandemic. They also represent a return to routine for children and their parents, who have lived through two school years marked by health worries, education interruptions, and the need to quickly adapt to remote schooling. In addition, the pandemic came with unpredictable schedules as classrooms and sometimes entire schools shut down due to COVID outbreaks.
Below you’ll find the questions I receive most often from parents regarding the COVID-19 vaccines, and my answers. Please consult this page often as I’ll be updating it regularly throughout the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccines for children aged 5 to 11.
QUESTION: Since the pandemic started, it seems like COVID hasn’t been very serious for children. So why should children receive the vaccine?
DR.PAUL’S ANSWER: While it’s true that the original strain of COVID that appeared in late 2019 spared children of its worst effects, the same cannot be said about the variants that have emerged since then, such as the Delta variant. Due to the Delta variant, which is more contagious than the original strain, doctors are now seeing more children with COVID-19 symptoms, and a small number have become severely ill.
Sadly, some children have died from a serious condition known as multisystem inflammatory syndrome due to the COVID-19 virus (MIS-C). Children who develop this syndrome suffer from severely inflamed organs and tissues. The syndrome can affect several organs, such as their brain, heart, lungs, and digestive system, amongst others.
I don’t want to see any children get seriously ill or die from this virus, and I believe the COVID vaccines can help us achieve that goal.
QUESTION: What are the known side effects of the COVID-19 vaccine in children aged 5 to 11?
DR.PAUL’S ANSWER: The studies performed by Pfizer have shown no major side effects. Researchers know that most side effects from vaccines occur within the first week after vaccination, and some children may not experience any side effects at all.
The side effects children have experienced in the clinical trials are mild and like the ones experienced by adults:
- Sore arm at the injection site
- Muscle aches
- Fever and chills
QUESTION: Is the COVID-19 vaccine for children aged 5 to 11 the same one given to adults?
DR.PAUL’S ANSWER: No, the vaccine manufactured by Pfizer for children aged 5 to 11 is only 1/3 the size of the dose for teenagers and adults. The vaccine contains the same active ingredients, but in a smaller dose. This is common practice amongst vaccines for children.
QUESTION: If the COVID-19 vaccine for children aged 5 to 11 is 1/3 the size of the one for adults, will it offer children the same level of protection that adults get from the adult version?
DR.PAUL’S ANSWER: The short answer is yes. In fact, the vaccine may even offer children better protection from the COVID virus than the adult version. That’s because younger children generally have stronger immune systems than teenagers and adults, so their body generates more protective antibodies when they receive a vaccine.
As a bonus, smaller doses usually mean fewer side effects, if any.
QUESTION: If a child has already had COVID-19, should they still get the COVID-19 vaccine when it becomes available?
DR.PAUL’S ANSWER: Yes, I strongly recommend that children receive the COVID-19 vaccine, even if they have already had COVID-19, if they have recovered from their illness and been cleared by their health unit. We don’t currently know how long the protective antibodies from a COVID-19 infection last, so the vaccines are our best bet to ensure that children are protected from future COVID-19 infections.
QUESTION: Many parents worry that the development, testing and approval of the COVID-19 vaccines was rushed. How can Health Canada approve a new vaccine so quickly?
DR.PAUL’S ANSWER: As a pediatrician and a parent, I understand that parents don’t want to give their children a vaccine that some still perceive as experimental. The truth is that Health Canada will approve the vaccine after subjecting it to the same rigorous standards as all other drugs approved for use in the country.
The main reason COVID-19 vaccines were developed so quickly is that scientists from all around the world collaborated on the research and development, in a global effort to end the pandemic. In the past, that wasn’t always the case.
The other element to keep in mind is that mRNA technology is not new. The technology has been studied in humans for 20 years and scientists had been working on mRNA vaccines for a decade before the pandemic hit.
In fact, researchers are developing mRNA vaccines for several infectious diseases, like Influenza, Zika, Rabies and Malaria. I predict a growing number of vaccines in the future will use mRNA technology.
QUESTION: Some parents are worried that the COVID-19 vaccines may cause myocarditis or pericarditis in their young children. Should they be worried about these side effects?
DR.PAUL’S ANSWER: While a very small number of adolescents and young adults (especially males) have experienced myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle) or pericarditis (inflammation of the lining around the heart) following COVID-19 vaccination, it’s important to emphasize that these side effects are extremely rare.
The current data shows that the risks of developing myocarditis or pericarditis are far higher following COVID-19 infection than following vaccination.
QUESTION: Can the COVID-19 vaccine cause a COVID-19 infection?
DR.PAUL’S ANSWER: No, the vaccines currently in use can’t infect people with the COVID-19 virus as they do not contain the virus. The vaccines that have been approved for use in Canada strictly teach the immune system how to recognize the virus so the body can fight it off.
QUESTION: When a person receives the COVID-19 vaccine, is it true that they can shed the virus and infect others?
DR.PAUL’S ANSWER: No, this is a myth I commonly see online. A person can only shed a virus if they are infected. Given that COVID-19 vaccines do not contain any virus, vaccinated individuals do not put others at risk. The reality is quite the contrary! Getting vaccinated remains the best way for folks to protect their family and friends.
QUESTION: Can the COVID-19 vaccines impact fertility?
DR.PAUL’S ANSWER: There is no evidence that COVID-19 vaccines cause male or female infertility, or that they will cause infertility. I believe these concerns are the result of misinformation spread on social media.
QUESTION: Given that the COVID-19 vaccines being used in Canada use mRNA technology, can they alter a person’s DNA?
DR.PAUL’S ANSWER: No, once again, this is a myth. Vaccines using mRNA technology can’t change a person’s genetic makeup as they never interact with a person’s DNA.
QUESTION: What should parents do if they’re on the fence about having their children vaccinated against COVID-19?
DR.PAUL’S ANSWER: I recommend that parents who are worried about vaccinating their children against COVID-19 speak to their healthcare provider. Parents can also consult alternate sources of information, as long as they ensure they’re credible. I have seen lots of misinformation shared on social media.
Pediatrician DR.PAUL Roumeliotis is certified by the American Board of Pediatrics and Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada. The information provided above is designed to be an educational aid only. It is not intended to replace the advice and care of your child’s physician, nor is it intended to be used for medical diagnosis or treatment. If you suspect that your child has a medical condition always consult a physician.