Why Vaccinate Kids Against COVID-19?

Why vaccinate kids against COVID-19?

Kids do have a relatively low risk of dying from COVID-19 (~529 US children have died from Covid-19). However, the risk of long-term injury, even for children, isn’t exactly rare – to include long-term injuries to the brain described as “brain fog”.

But how common are these long-term symptoms or injuries? Well, it’s a bit difficult to pin down a precise number as the conclusions of numerous research studies vary considerably. For example, Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, pointed to recent studies that suggested that between 11%-15% of infected youths might “end up with this long-term consequence, which can be pretty devastating in terms of things like school performance.” (Link). This conclusion is supported by some large studies into this phenomenon, such as the UK Research and Innovation Study (UKRI, September 2, 2021), the “world’s largest study on long COVID in children”. 

There is, however, the very likely problem of bias in this study. Of those young people sent a survey, only 13% responded. It is quite possible that these respondents were more likely to have poor health than those who did not respond – resulting in an artificial inflation of the number of those with long-term symptoms. To what degree are these numbers inflated? Well, that seems hard to precisely pin down at this point. However, if all those with long COVID were to have responded to the survey in this study, among the 13% who actually did respond, that would suggest their actual number was “fewer than 2%”. (Link) So, the range of predictions for children who end up with long COVID is still quite wide. Dr. Andrew Pavia, chief of the division of pediatric infectious diseases at University of Utah Health and director of hospital epidemiology at Intermountain Primary Children’s Hospital in Salt Lake City, said that the best estimate that he has seen is that 1 in 10 children who get COVID-19 will end up with a long version of the virus (Link). So, the likey risk is somewhere between 2% and 10% – which isn’t what most would call “rare” – especially when considering such a risk facing one’s own child. And, this is before the Delta Variant came along.

The Delta Variant has been particularly hard on children. Although the severity of disease in children does not appear to have increased, the Delta Variant has a much higher rate of transmission and infectivity. A record-high 2,544 children were hospitalized with Covid-19 on September 10, according to data from the US Department of Health and Human Services. There is about three times the number of hospitalizations of children with the Delta Variant compared to the peak during the winter. 

Although less common, at least 4,661 cases of COVID-related MIS-C (multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children) have been reported, including 41 deaths (Link). The overall incidence of MIS-C is around 1 in 3,700 in pediatric patients with ages above 12 years and 1 in 4,100 pediatric patients less than 12 years of age (Link) – or around 25 MIS-C cases per 100,000 children infected by COVID-19. Rates of MIS-C appear to vary by race and ethnicity, with Black and Hispanic children accounting for a disproportionally high number of cases and Asian children accounting for a small number of cases. In three large case series, 25 to 45% of cases occurred in Black children, 30 to 40% in Hispanic children, 15 to 25% in White children, and 3 to 28% in Asian children (Link). What happens here is that a COVID-19 infection can induce the body to generate an autoimmune response against its own blood vessels – which causes different parts of the body to become inflamed, including the heart, lungs, kidneys, brain, skin, eyes, and gastrointestinal organs. This can happen with even mild or asymptomatic cases of COVID-19 in children.

As far as “natural immunity” that is specific to COVID-19, this is not achieved without having to go through the infection first. Vaccines simply reduce the risks associated with a COVID-19 infection – to include the risks of “Long COVID” and MIS-C.  Also, gaining a natural immunity via a COVID-19 infection significantly increases the risk of the infected child transmitting the virus to someone else who might be more susceptible to a severe infection resulting in hospitalization and/or death.

As far as safety studies, none of the usual studies done with new drugs or vaccines were skipped. There were no shortcuts taken. And, children 12-16 years old tolerate the Pfizer vaccine very well. The fact of the matter is that the risks associated with the vaccine are far less than the risks associated with getting infected by COVID-19 – even for children. After all, why get infected by a live virus when you can teach the adaptive immune system what to attack ahead of time? What is in the vaccine that’s not already part of the virus? Nothing. The product of the mRNA vaccines against COVID-19 is the viral spike – modified to remain in the “pre-confirmation state” to make it less biologically active. Almost all of the vaccine-produced spike protein remains local at the site of injection – where it teaches the adaptive immune system to recognize and fight against the actual viral infection if it were ever to enter the body. A live viral infection, in comparison, will give produce a great many much more biologically active spike proteins, and much much more, throughout the entire body – not just within one small localized region.  In short, this is why the vaccine is far safer than the infection.

For example, the risk of myocarditis is 37 times higher for infected children under 16 years compared to their uninfected peers (Link). This is based on a background rate of childhood myocarditis at around 1 in 100,000 (Link). While the mRNA vaccines are also associated with an increased risk of myocarditis in children, this risk is up to 3.4 per 100,000 (Link) – or only around 3 times higher than normal background levels (~75% of the time following the 2nd dose – which is why the UK is currently only recommending one Pfizer dose for children 16-18 to limit this risk even further: Link). In other words, the risk of myocarditis in children following infection is around 10 times the risk of myocarditis following a full 2-dose vaccination. This is true for pretty much every other risk factor.  Any risk that the mRNA vaccine may have for a child, that very same risk is much higher for a COVID-19 infection. The only exception to this seems to be the risk of an allergic reaction – which is higher, especially for those with known allergies (like nut allergies for example), for those getting the vaccine as compared to the infection.

For more on the question of if the vaccines were rushed, here’s a very good discussion by cell biologist Rhonda Patrick Ph.D and pulmonologist Dr. Roger Seheult: Link

Dr. Rhonda Patrick is a cell biologist with a Ph.D. in biomedical science from the University of Tennessee Health Science Center and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

Roger Seheult, MD is a well-known pulmonologist and the co-founder and lead professor at MedCram.com. He is an Associate Professor at the University of California, Riverside School of Medicine and Assistant Professor at Loma Linda University School of Medicine. Dr. Seheult is Quadruple Board Certified: Internal Medicine, Pulmonary Disease, Critical Care, and Sleep Medicine.

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14 thoughts on “Why Vaccinate Kids Against COVID-19?

  1. One concern that I have is the potential for integration in the host DNA, using the same mechanism produces “processed pseudogenes”.

    “Human LINE retrotransposons generate processed pseudogenes”. This article discusses this process.

    I have never heard this discussed up to this point.

    What are your thoughts Sean?

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    • In order for an mRNA vaccine to alter a person’s DNA, the RNA sequence would first have to be made into DNA. This would require an enzyme called reverse transcriptase. Then, the DNA would have to enter the nucleus of the cell and be inserted into the DNA within that nucleus with the help of additional enzymes known as Protease and Integrase. RNA viruses that do this, like the HIV virus, already come with codes for all of these necessary enzymes. Human cells do not normally do this. And, the mRNA vaccines do not have these enzymes either.

      Ironically, however, rarely those with active COVID-19 infections can, apparently, have their DNA changed by the viral sequence (Link). However, this finding is somewhat theoretical at this point and still controversial (Link) – and is not known to happen with the mRNA sequences of the vaccine.

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      • Sean you apparently did not read my comment carefully.

        Human cells apparently use the LINE retrotransposon mechanism (which includes reverse transcriptase, integrase, etc) to make “processed pseudogenes” from human mRNA. I am wondering if this could happen with the mRNA in the covid vaccine.

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        • In response to your follow-up comment:

          “Interestingly they are proposing the same LINE related mechanism in this article that you mentioned. Reverse-transcribed SARS-CoV-2 RNA can integrate into the genome of cultured human cells and can be expressed in patient-derived tissues.” – Don E Helland MD

          Yes, that’s right. However, if it happens, and that’s still a big if, it seems to be limited to extremely rare conditions found only in a laboratory setting with very special and very unusual cultured cells – not in real life or in response to the mRNA vaccines. Vaccine mRNA, in particular, cannot, by itself, make it into the nucleus of a cell because they lack ribonucleoproteins that express nuclear localization signals to facilitates the mRNA into the nucleus. But, what if the mRNA sequence is assisted by a LINE1 sequence?

          The human genome has about 500,000 LINE-1 sequences. Of these, there are only about 100 copies that have the potential to jump. And, most of these 100 that are theoretically capable of jumping, don’t actually jump – only about five or six of them do. Already, things are sounding pretty unlikely for this mechanism – which is probably why there are no known integrations of any previous coronavirus genetic sequence into the human genome or any other animal genome (Link).

          But what about the actual research findings of Zhang et al. (May 25, 2021), that showed that this was possible? Why did their experiments work when this sort of thing has never before been seen in real life? Well, the researchers chose a very special line of human cells they could grow in the laboratory, a line of cells that already expresses a lot of LINE-1, and they gave them a bit of DNA that made even more LINE-1. They wanted to crank up the system to see what would happen if tons of LINE-1 were available. Moreover, some of the bits of coronavirus genetic material that stuck to human DNA that the researchers detected might not be evidence of integration; rather, these fragments may just be artifacts. Also, note that this effect was never identified in real living people. It’s not something that has been seen in “real life” situations. At best, it’s only a laboratory-based observation during extremely unusual and unlikely situations – situations that are nearly impossible to realize in real-life settings.

          “Even if all this is true (which beggars belief at the moment), it would be a very rare thing indeed, the implications of which are hard to imagine.” (Professor Geoffrey J. Faulkner at the University of Queensland – an expert in jumping bits of DNA like LINE-1 elements. )

          It is not surprising, then, that the proposal of Zhang et. al., that this does rarely happen is not without controversy. A recently released bioRxiv preprint also suggested that the human SARS-CoV-2 chimeric transcripts detected through RNA sequencing may arise as a sample prep artifact rather than true reverse transcription, integration, and expression. Here’s a portion of an interesting discussion along these lines:

          Ellen Foxman, MD, PhD, assistant professor in the department of laboratory medicine at Yale School of Medicine, reiterated the same concerns. “My overall take on this [PNAS] paper is that it is exploratory research, and that while the data suggests that fragments of the SARS-CoV-2 genome can become integrated in human cells, other explanations for the data are also possible, as the authors discussed.”

          “Some critics contend that the physiological levels of reverse transcription machinery in human cells are very low and insufficient for cellular integration of SARs-CoV-2. In their cell line experiments, Jaenisch’s team transfected HEK293T cells with LINE1 prior to infection with SARS-CoV-2 to increase the likelihood of detecting rare integration events. This has prompted critics to question the biological relevance of the detected chimeric transcripts.”

          Burgio said, “These integration events were found in a context of strong overexpression of LINE1 transposable elements, which is not seen in a real-life setting.”

          “LINE1 expression is induced in cells under stress,” countered Jaenisch. “Stress can be induced by infection with a virus, by exposure cytokines, by aging, in cancer. So, you could argue when a patient is infected with [SARs-CoV-2] virus it induces LINE1 and that promotes integration… it is a very clear possibility.” The team presented evidence supporting the induction of LINE1 by virus infection. Analogous results have also been observed by other groups.

          “There is no evidence presented that the extremely rare events proposed in this paper would be harmful to human health or could result in live SARS-CoV-2 viruses being produced,” said Foxman.

          Jaenisch agreed and emphasized, “The biggest piece of [viral] DNA we find is 5% of the viral genome, 1,600 bps. There is absolutely no way in which infectious virus can be made from these integrated sequences.”

          Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology News

          Specifically regarding the mRNA vaccine producing this effect:

          “There is absolutely no reason to believe that any of the vaccine mRNA is doing the same thing. The viral spike protein mRNA is a tiny piece. Vaccines are not inducing LINE element RTs,” said Young. “Vaccines are protecting against the possibility of long-term seriously debilitating diseases or death.” (Link)

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  2. How about looking at an even more up-to-date study on kids in Australia! Only the already sick are affected more. . . .

    https://scitechdaily.com/how-common-is-long-covid-in-children-and-how-is-it-different-than-in-adults/

    It comes as a new MCRI COVID-19 research brief also states after 10 months in circulation the Delta strain had not caused more serious disease in children than previous variants and most cases remained asymptomatic or mild.

    However, it found children and adolescents with pre-existing health conditions including obesity, chronic kidney disease, cardiovascular disease, and immune disorders have a 25-fold greater risk of severe COVID-19. A recent systematic review reported severe COVID-19 occurred in 5.1 percent of children and adolescents with pre-existing conditions and in 0.2 per cent without.

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    • Pre-existing conditions are a problem, for both severe COVID as well as Long-COVID. However, particularly with regard to the problem of Long-COVID, even otherwise healthy children also seem to have a rather high rate of long-term damage following a COVID-19 infection.

      As far as the UKRI study, this particular study covered many of the limitations mentioned in the article you reference – such as selection bias that results in overestimating the rate of persistent symptoms. To counter such biases the UKRI study:

        – Relied on PCR lab proven SARS-COV-2 status
        – Enrolled a COVID-negative comparison control group
        – Recruited nationally.

      There is, however, the very likely problem of bias in this study. Of those young people sent a survey, only 13% responded. It is quite possible that these respondents were more likely to have poor health than those who did not respond – resulting in an artificial inflation of the number of those with long-term symptoms. To what degree are these numbers inflated? Well, that seems hard to precisely pin down at this point, but the data currently in hand suggests that between 2% and 10% of childhood COVID cases will result in long-term symptoms – some of which appear to be permanent injuries.

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    • It’s hard to say at this point – especially given that the Delta Variant is currently on the decline in this country and around the world. If no other variants come along that are able to produce another significant spike in cases, if “herd immunity” is reached here in the next several months, then probably boosters will not be needed in children.

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      • You are expert at not answering the questions asked.
        Recommend vaccine for children, then say I don’t know.
        Can’t see farther than the nose on your face, or don’t care to see farther? Children have many years beyond the end of your nose to live, but you don’t know — just recommend vaccine for children. Credibility also extends to the end of your nose. If I want short-term advice for long term lives, I’ll know that you are the man.

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        • What questions have I not answered? You asked about boosters for children, and I answered that question as best as I know how at this point in time. Again, I don’t know for sure, but I am hopeful that boosters might not be needed for children since I believe that we might be nearing the end of the COVID-19 pandemic – that we might soon be reaching “herd immunity”.

          As far as “not caring”, you’re mistaken. I have two young sons (10 and 12 years old). So, I do care very much as to the correct decision as to what to do for my own two boys here. And yes, my oldest son has had his first Pfizer vaccine two weeks ago… without any ill effects except for a mildly sore arm for a couple of days.

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  3. Thanks so much for all your wonderfully presented medical research! I appreciate all you do to educate on truth! A quick question. Are there recommendations for vaccinating children who have already contracted the coronavirus? We live overseas and have not had access to vaccines. We will coming back to the USA for one month in December and would be there enough time to have both my boys (13 and 16) vaccinated. But in the mean time, the whole family was infected with the virus in January of this year. Still worth getting the vaccine for them to avoid further infection risk?

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    • That’s kinda of a grey area since, for most people (~80%), naturally-derived immunity (i.e., due to a previous infection by COVID-19) produces a good level of immunity against future infections that is often better than that produced via vaccination. The only caveat is that vaccine-derived immunity appears to be more consistent for a greater percentage of people. On top of this, children already have a much lower risk for serious infections to begin with. So, to be honest, in your situation, it’s very hard to say if vaccinations for your children would offer a significant advantage when it comes to protecting them or others around them. I just can’t point to any good evidence that clearly shows that it would – at least in the short term. Perhaps, after a year or so, since it seems as though immunity to COVID-19 wanes over time, it might be helpful to get at least one Pfizer shot as a “booster”?

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