With COVID-19 Variants Spreading, Pediatrician Says Now's the Time to Get Kids Vaccinated
At every exam with Dr. Jason Terk, the Cook Children’s pediatrician makes a point to ask his teenage and 12-year-old patients: Have you gotten your COVID-19 vaccination yet?
Dr. Terk routinely addresses questions and concerns about the vaccination, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends for everyone ages 12 and older. He wants parents to understand the vaccine is safe and effective against the virus that causes COVID-19.
“It’s an exciting time to be able to provide protection against the pandemic virus for the younger population,” said Dr. Terk, who treats patients at Cook Children’s Pediatrics at Keller Parkway. “I’m encouraging my families to get that done as soon as possible.”
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has authorized the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccination for children as young as 12 years old, who receive the same dosage as adults -- in two shots, three weeks apart. Potential side effects include pain at the site of the injection, tiredness and headache.
Cook Children’s has teamed up with Texas Health Community Clinics to provide the Pfizer vaccines at clinic locations throughout the North Texas region. Appointments may be made but aren’t necessary. There is no cost.
Dr. Terk, who is also the chair of the Texas Public Health Coalition, pointed out that some families in 2020 delayed their children’s scheduled checkups. The summer break from school provides a good opportunity to receive not only the COVID-19 vaccine but any overdue vaccinations, such as Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis). The COVID-19 vaccination may be given along with other vaccines that adolescents need.
“We have a backlog of people who didn’t come to the doctor because of the initial concerns about safety at the beginning part of the COVID-19 pandemic, and so we’re still in the process of catching people up,” he said. “We want to try to leverage this time to get these things done.”
Some children who are infected with the coronavirus show symptoms at all. Others can experience fever, cough, nausea, sore throat and body aches. While children generally do not get as sick from COVID-19 as adults, in rare cases some kids become severely ill or even die. Recent news reports have also zeroed in on the Delta variant of COVID-19, which was first detected in India. According to the CDC, it now accounts for 6% of all infections in the United States. The Delta variant is highly transmissible and may be associated with more severe disease.
At Cook Children's, the seven-day rolling average of COVID-positive tests has fallen from 170 daily in January to fewer than 20 per day, or 1%. Dr. Terk called the trend good news across the United States but subject to new variants that seem to spread easier and cause more severe symptoms in younger people.
In a report released June 4, the CDC noted a rise of adolescents hospitalized primarily for COVID-19 in April – lower than the peak in January, but higher than in March. Risks in these severe cases include the need for intensive care admission and mechanical ventilation. “Highly effective COVID-19 vaccines are now available to adolescents as an additional evidence-based prevention measure,” according to the CDC.
Dr. Terk discusses the vaccine with all of his patients who are eligible for the immunization, and with the parents of every child who comes to his office. He urges teens and adults alike to get vaccinated soon. The responses vary.
“I just saw someone today who is a 12-year-old who affirmatively said on the very first day that the authorization came out ‘I want to get this done. I want to do my part.’ She was motivated,” he said. “Then you have other 12-year-olds and 13-year-olds who look at it as another shot to try to avoid just because it’s a shot.”
For those who respond with hesitancy or objection, Dr. Terk explains what he described as the appropriate development and testing of the vaccines. His message: Vaccine manufacturers proceeded rapidly but cautiously without cutting corners. Dr. Terk also shares the data on the vaccine’s track record of success against the spread of coronavirus and severe cases of COVID-19.
These conversations take place at the pediatrician’s office because Dr. Terk wants families to make informed decisions. A parent’s choice to receive the COVID-19 vaccination helps protect young children in the home, he tells them. Sometimes, he said, a reluctant or undecided candidate for the vaccine just needs a little nudge.
“Most people who have not gotten the vaccination and don’t intend to are not militantly anti-vaccine people. They simply have real concerns and questions,” Dr. Terk said.
More than 170 million Americans have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, according to the CDC. In rare instances, the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System has received reports of myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle) particularly in adolescents and young adults. But to Dr. Terk and other promoters, the overall benefit from the vaccine far outweighs the risks, which he called “infinitesimal.”
Plans are underway to pilot a COVID-19 vaccine clinic at two Cook Children's pediatrician offices later this month. Dr. Terk encourages his teenage and 12-year-old patients to access the vaccine at pharmacies, clinics or wherever it’s most convenient.
“We are seeing wonderful rates of protection,” Dr. Terk said. “We now are millions of doses down the road and seeing a very, very good safety record.”