COVID Vaccines and Getting Back-to-School
MomsRising recently hosted a conversation with Candice W. Jones, MD FAAP, a fellow at the American Academy of Pediatrics, to talk about COVID-19, vaccines, masks, and getting back to school. Below is a summary of our questions and answers:
Felicia Burnett: How vulnerable are children under 12 yrs old as parents prepare to send kids back to school?
Dr. Candace Jones: Parents are understandably concerned about their children safely returning to school. Research shows that if we follow good public health precautions – including getting vaccinated, wearing masks, physical distancing, and symptom reporting, there is very low spread of COVID in schools. More spread is happening outside schools, like when children or teens gather. We need to prioritize getting children into school, because it’s so important for their mental health, education and general well-being.
Felicia Burnett: How are the vaccine doses being tailored for children (i.e. does their different size / weight play a factor)?
Dr. Candace Jones: The COVID-19 vaccine works similarly to other vaccines your child has had. There isn’t a difference in doses for children 12 and up and adults. Germs such as SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, invade and multiply inside the body. The vaccine stops this by teaching the immune system to recognize and make antibodies to fight the virus.
Before getting FDA emergency use authorization, clinical trials showed COVID-19 vaccines to be safe and effective for adults and teens age 16 and up. Trials involved tens of thousands of volunteers. After getting additional safety data for younger teens, the FDA extended authorization to adolescents age 12 and older. You can find more information here.
Felicia Burnett: Are vaccinated children attending school or playing sports protected and should they still wear a mask when in close contact with others?
Dr. Candace Jones: To protect students, teachers and staff, all children over the age of 2 years and all adult staff should wear face masks, regardless of whether they are vaccinated. All students and staff who are eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine should get vaccinated. I also urge families to make sure their children are up to date on all vaccines. The last thing we need as we work our way out of this pandemic is an outbreak of another vaccine-preventable disease.
Felicia Burnett: Should nursing mothers still breastfeed their babies after they receive the vaccine? Are there any benefits?
Dr. Candace Jones: COVID-19 vaccines are considered safe for breastfeeding mothers and babies. Many lactating people have received the COVID-19 vaccine. Recent studies have demonstrated COVID-19 mRNA vaccine antibodies in the breastmilk of vaccinated lactating mothers, which can potentially confer protection to the breastfed infant. More studies are needed to determine how these antibodies protect the baby. Breastfeeding can offer many perks, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. You can even breastfeed if you test positive for COVID-19 or are not fully vaccinated, as long as you take extra safety precautions to protect your baby. You can find more information here.
Felicia Burnett: Do we know of any long-term health concerns for children who get the vaccines?
Dr. Candace Jones: Based on the latest evidence, myocarditis appears to be an extremely rare side effect—one that doesn't compare to the potential risks of COVID-19 infection. The CDC and AAP continue to recommend COVID-19 vaccination for people 12 years and older. Trials for the vaccines involved tens of thousands of volunteers. After getting additional safety data for younger teens, the FDA extended authorization to adolescents age 12 and older. Clinical trials are underway for children as young as six months old. The vaccines continue to be monitored very closely. The CDC said that COVID-19 vaccines will have “the most intensive safety monitoring in U.S. history." You can find more information here.
Felicia Burnett: What is important for parents to know about the COVID-19 vaccines?
Dr. Candace Jones: More than 4 million children have been infected with this virus since the beginning of the pandemic, and children have suffered in many other ways. Low risk is not no risk, and many kids have become very sick from COVID-19. We have a safe and effective vaccine and children deserve to have that protection. Children need the protection of the COVID-19 vaccine. Vaccinating children ages 12 and older now will also make it more possible for them to fully engage in school and all the related activities that will begin again this fall.