A pediatrician’s advice on your teens and the coronavirus vaccine: They should get it.

·4 min read

I’m so excited that more kids can now get protected against COVID-19 by vaccination! This is a huge step forward on the path back to normal.

As a pediatrician, I see every day how much families struggle with life under COVID and how much kids can suffer with the resulting isolation and stress. As President of the NC Pediatric Society (NCPeds), I hear from doctors around the state that they share these concerns about what COVID-life is doing to children and are excited by the promise COVID vaccination brings. I also hear questions from parents.

As COVID vaccinations open to more age groups, here are some of the common questions I receive and my answers.

Would you get your child vaccinated? Yes, my entire family is vaccinated, including my wife, children, siblings and parents. When you look at the kids participating in vaccine trials to study the COVID vaccines, it isn’t unusual to see the kids of pediatricians in the ranks of those volunteering. Dr. Richard Chung is one of our NCPeds Board members, and his son Caleb has been participating in the trial to study COVID vaccine in children 12-15 years old -- they have both been on national and local TV explaining how important it is for children to be protected against COVID. My colleagues who are pregnant and breastfeeding are getting vaccinated too. One big bonus for my family, especially given my high-exposure job, was that once everyone was vaccinated, my children were finally able to see their grandparents after not being together for more than a year. That was great for my kids!

How bad is COVID for kids? For some kids, their case of COVID is very mild or maybe doesn’t have any symptoms at all. But for some children, they can have a severe case and maybe even die. Children can also get “long haul” COVID where they continue to feel terrible weeks or months after “getting better.” Several of my patients still have problems with smell (everything smells like fried rice or vomit) even though they “recovered” from COVID more than four months ago. Concerningly, the new variants are spreading fast among children in Michigan, but our current data shows the vaccine still works against the variants. So it’s important to get vaccinated. But one of the main ways that COVID is bad for kids is by limiting social interaction. Young people – like all people – need human connection. They need to be with friends. This is especially true for teens. In my practice, we are as much on the lookout for anxiety and depression as a cough and runny nose.

Wow – that whole getting-vaccine-to-market thing seemed fast. Science is amazing, and this is what can happen when thrusters are set to full power. Our scientists and government invested decades ago in preparing to make vaccine quickly in case of a pandemic - and it worked! Big bucks were invested in getting this vaccine out quickly. Plus, our rigorous safety protocols are so sensitive they caught a one in a million event with the Johnson and Johnson vaccine (risk of death from the COVID disease is WAY higher than that). The only vaccine authorized less than 18 years old is Pfizer, so you can set aside even worrying about the tiny risk of the J&J vaccine for your child.

Can we stop wearing a mask if our whole family is vaccinated? Mask wearing will likely stay important for a while. But every week it seems that the CDC comes out with revised guidance of more and more daily activities that people can enjoy when fully vaccinated – from being unmasked with other fully vaccinated people to meeting friends outside.

Is it true that vaccination won’t cost me anything, even if I don’t have insurance? Getting the COVID vaccination is free, with no out of pocket cost.

Which youth should most get vaccinated? The bottom line is that almost everyone should be vaccinated unless they have one of the very rare exclusions.

We are getting so close to back to normal. COVID vaccination is a key part of how we get there. More people becoming vaccinated sooner is how we defeat this awful disease that has taken so much from us. If you haven’t already, please get yourself and your children ages 12 and up vaccinated. My family did, and it’s been great!

Christoph Diasio, MD, is president of the North Carolina Pediatric Society.