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What should parents know about the COVID vaccine?
As 2020 comes to a close, all eyes are on the just-approved COVID vaccine and its promise for a healthier year ahead. As supplies roll in, VCU Health is providing the vaccine to frontline health care workers immediately so they can continue safely caring for the community members who need them.
Along with great hope come many questions about the timing, safety and other aspects of receiving a new immunization. Dr. Emily Godbout, epidemiologist and infectious diseases specialist, answers six of the top questions about the COVID vaccine – particularly as it relates to kids.
Why won’t the coronavirus vaccine be available for kids and adults at the same time?
So far, the COVID-19 vaccines have only been fully tested on adults. Children’s immune systems are different from adults and their immune systems can even vary at different ages.
This fall, the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine trials started to include children as young as 12, but the results aren’t available yet. We anticipate more and more clinical trials to begin expanding recruitment to other age groups. The bottom line is that more research is needed to ensure the vaccine will be safe and effective for infants, kids and teens younger than 16.
Are vaccines safe?
Before they can be given to the general public, vaccines go through a rigorous series of trials and approvals to address their safety and effectiveness. In general, approved vaccines are safe and effective at helping prevent severe disease.
The safety of COVID-19 vaccines is a top priority. Multiple federal partners have worked together to ensure that the COVID-19 vaccines are as safe as possible.
What is the difference between how the Johnson & Johnson vaccine works and how the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines work?
The ultimate difference is the way the instructions are delivered. The Moderna and Pfizer vaccines use mRNA technology, and the Johnson & Johnson vaccine uses the more traditional virus-based technology. mRNA is essentially a little piece of code that the vaccine delivers to your cells. The code serves as an instruction manual for your immune system, teaching it to recognize the virus that causes COVID-19 and attack it, should it encounter the real thing.
Instead of using mRNA, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine uses a disabled adenovirus to deliver the instructions. This adenovirus is in no way related to the coronavirus. It is a completely different virus. Although it can deliver instructions on how to defeat the coronavirus, it can’t replicate in your body and will not give you a viral infection.
The early trials to test for warning signs about the vaccines’ safety do not indicate any serious concerns. Health officials reviewed all the safety data from the clinical trials to ensure they’re safe before making them available to the general public.
My child has a compromised immune system, should they get the COVID vaccine when it’s available?
Only non-pregnant adults participated in the early clinical trials for various COVID-19 vaccines. We need more information before vaccines are recommended for children, and specifically determining which groups of children should receive the vaccine. Clinical trials continue to expand, so hopefully, we will have this information in the near future.
How has CHoR prepared for the vaccine?
VCU Health has worked closely with state and federal agencies to prepare for the vaccine’s arrival and distribution. A limited supply of COVID-19 vaccines will begin arriving immediately.
The vaccine made by Pfizer, Inc. needs to be stored at ultra-cold temperatures (minus 70°C or below). We already have ultra-cold freezers set to negative 80°C for storage and have purchased an additional freezer to make sure we have ample space.
Initially, the vaccine will be reserved for frontline health care workers per recommendations from the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices. As more doses become available, we’ll be able to begin providing them to patients and community members. There is still more to learn about the vaccine before we plan to start giving it to kids, however, as part of an academic medical center, we’re able to stay on top of the latest research and will continue providing the best and safest care possible to our pediatric patients.
Will the coronavirus vaccine need to be given annually, like the flu shot?
The coronavirus vaccine studies are currently evaluating whether one or two doses are needed originally. When giving two doses, they’re usually done one or two months apart.
We don’t yet know how long immunity will last. It’s possible that over time more doses will be needed to provide continued protection – similar to many vaccines we have been getting routinely for years.
What should my family do until there is a vaccine for kids?
The biggest thing right now is to keep up with the practices currently in place to protect against COVID-19 – handwashing, social distancing and masks for those age 2 and older. Self-quarantine at home if anyone in your family might be sick to avoid spreading the virus. It’s also important to keep up with routine vaccinations and medical care to help everyone stay healthy.
It’s been a long year, but there’s been a lot of progress too – with more on the horizon. We’ll continue to keep you informed every step of the way!
Find more COVID-19 vaccine information and resources.