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.