Pennsylvania’s physician general and two pediatricians took to Facebook Live on Friday to share information about the safety and effectiveness of the new COVID-19 vaccine for kids ages 5 to 11 one week after it received emergency approval.

Dr. Denise Johnson, Department of Health Physician General, led Vax Facts: Facts About Pediatric Vaccines. She was joined by Dr. Trude Haecker, president of the Pennsylvania Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, and Dr. Swathi Gowtham a specialist in pediatric infectious diseases with Geisinger.

Nearly 19,000 children ages 5 through 11 in Pennsylvania and 900,000 across the country received the first dose of the two-dose Pfizer vaccine as of early this week. Parental consent is required. The dose used is one-third of that used for adults. It’s been authorized by the FDA, approved by the CDC and recommended by pediatricians.

At the outset, Johnson outlined that 6 million kids nationwide tested positive for COVID-19 since the pandemic’s outset in March 2020. Of that, 67,000 were hospitalized. In Pennsylvania, there’s been 59,743 cases among school-aged children since Aug. 16 including 1,324 in Montour, Northumberland, Snyder and Union counties.

Children are at lower risk of severe illness and death from COVID-19, Gowtham said, but too often pediatric cases are dismissed in discussions about health risks from the infectious disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

The potential long-haul effects to children who were sickened by the disease remain unknown, Gowtham said. Multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C), a rare syndrome caused by COVID-19 that inflames the heart, lungs, brain and more, was shown to occur more often in children ages 5 to 11, she said.

“All eligible children age 5 and over should get the vaccine,” Gowtham said, adding that her recommendation extends to children with immune system issues. The only instances where she would recommend against it, she said, would be for children with known allergic reactions to components of the vaccine.

Haecker said children risk unknowingly spreading COVID-19 to the adults in their families and social circles. In the trial study of the vaccine for pediatrics, Haecker said almost every child who tested positive for the disease was unvaccinated. The vaccine protects their physical health and mental well-being by keeping them in school and activities like athletics and clubs.

“We really want children to be in school, to be around their friends and to not fall behind,” Haecker said.

Gowtham explained that it takes weeks for natural immunity to build when a virus is introduced to the human body. In that time, it can wreak havoc. The Pfizer vaccine, as well as Moderna’s, use mRNA technology that trains the immune system to develop an immune response to the SARS-CoV-2 virus without introducing the actual virus to the body. The vaccine is injected into muscle cells and won’t travel beyond that, she said. It doesn’t change one’s DNA, according to Gowtham, and it doesn’t cause infertility.

Gowtham said the mRNA is destroyed within 48 hours inside the muscle cell. It was shown in ongoing trials to be 90% effective, she said.

“The vaccines are training your body to fight against that virus or bacteria before your body sees it,” Gowtham said.

Serious vaccine side effects like myocarditis were seen largely in older teenage boys, Gowtham said, and at a rate of about 1 in 10,000. She expects fewer cases of heart inflammation in kids ages 5 to 11 because the vaccine dose is smaller than that given to teenagers, 10 micrograms compared to 30 micrograms.

The threat of MIS-C, which is caused by COVID-19, is much higher than any vaccine side effects, Gowtham said.

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