By Linda Nwoke, Journal Exclusive
It’s the height of summer. Schools are out, and summer camps are in full swing. New Yorkers are traveling and exploring different sites in the city, generally enjoying life; for some alone, with family, and some with their kids. For parents, the arrival of summer break poses an emotional challenge, lack of access to the weekly in-school coronavirus testing program for students and notifications in case of an infection.
New York families began vaccinating children younger than five against Covid-19 in late June after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) approved vaccines. Afterward, health providers started offering vaccines to young children. The city set up over ten vaccine hubs to serve children six months and older.
Despite the initial rush, vaccination among these age groups is stalling. As NYC Mayor Eric Adams noted, “parents still have concerns about the vaccines and have a lot of questions.” This statement supports the data on the number of children vaccinated to date.
To address these concerns, the city’s health department, in conjunction with the Mayor’s Office and the NYC. Health and Hospitals organized a virtual town hall. Three health experts, including NYC’s Health Commissioner, Dr. Ashwin Vasan, addressed general concerns of parents about COVID-19 vaccines for six months and older, among other issues.
In his opening remarks, Dr. Vasan shared the immense relief and sense of pride in the city compared to two years ago—a period when hospitalizations and death from COVID 19 were so high. “We have waited for this moment where we can protect our little ones,” he said. The situational analysis report shows, “Cases of COVID-19 increasing within the city, because of the new variants — BA.4, BA.5, as well as a lot of reconnections that is taking place after the relative isolation that lasted over two years.” Dr. Vasan feels that “despite rising cases in the last months, there is no strain on the hospitals, and deaths from the virus have remained relatively low.” Yet he reiterated that many people’s choices will always affect others, especially those who are the most at-risk individuals in the community.
Who Should Get the Vaccine?
Dr. Dara Kass, Regional Director in the Health and Human Services Unit explained that everyone should get the vaccine and booster doses when eligible. These include pregnant women to protect their unborn children. The Senior Vice President at New York City Health and Hospitals, Dr. Ted Long, cited several options. Like calling 877- Vax4NYC or requesting in-home vaccinations (which became accessible on June 1), especially for people over 65 or unable to go to the clinic. “I got my children vaccinated at Jacoby Hospital. I recommend going to any of our hospitals and center,” he encouraged. Dr. Kass also emphasized the various options — parents talking to their medical providers, calling 212-COVID19 to speak to an expert about COVID 19 if they have questions. They reiterated that the vaccine remains free and accessible to anyone irrespective of their immigration status in the State.
Differences Between Rate of Vaccination in Adult and Children
Despite the excitement expressed by some parents about the availability of vaccines for young children under five years, some parents have remained cautious about vaccinating their younger children. The experts revealed the stark contrast in vaccination data between adults and children. Findings show that over 98% of adults have received at least one dose, compared to only 68% of children. Furthermore, about 2% of adults have not yet received any vaccination, compared to over 31% of children. Some parents are concerned about side effects, long-term effects, information that children are less at risk, or are ‘waiting to see.’ However, the Health Commissioner says it is a risky gamble. “Children are getting less COVID than children, but parents shouldn’t play Russian roulette with their kids’ lives.” He says, “Even if COVID is not fatal for your child, we are still learning about COVID’s long-term effect. So, we must consider the vaccine’s protective effect against the long-term effect of COVID among the unprotected.”
Why Get Vaccinated?
Dr. Kass said, “You should get vaccinated to prepare yourself.” She explains, “As a parent with three children, and having a child with compromised immunity, I was always worried, but once they were vaccinated, I became reassured. Knowing that even if they got COVID, they had the internal defense to fight the virus. But there is a higher risk of long-term complication without the vaccine, “she says.
Findings from existing data reveal that, after getting COVID-19, children can still have various health problems. However, getting vaccinated can help prevent severe sickness among children even if they get infected and help prevent short-and severe long-term complications of COVID-19.
“This is in addition to the measures we know that work like masking up in small spaces, making sure we get tested before gathering, “says Dr. Kass. Dr. Ted Long shared his experience as a parent of a less than one-year-old who caught COVID 19. “One reason for promoting the vaccination is that when my child got COVID, it was difficult to watch my daughter go through the coughs and shortness of breath. The sleepless night and the anxiety about the possibility of hospitalization. The magnitude of the clinical trials has taken care of all parents’ concerns about the side effects because there are none”.
The experts reported that scientists had conducted clinical trials with thousands of children to establish the effectiveness and safety of the vaccines. Furthermore, the vaccine is still undergoing the most intensive safety monitoring in America’s history. Moreover, organizations like the CDC continue to monitor the vaccines even after approval.
Facts Supporting the Need to Get Vaccinated include:
Evidence of ongoing safety monitoring shows that the known risks and possible severe complications of COVID-19 are more than the risks of a rare and adverse reaction after vaccination. Secondly, the common side effects tend to be mild and temporary, such as irritability, crying, or loss of appetite in children. There are rare cases of severe reactions after vaccination. The ones who experience the small risk of inflammation of the heart and its surrounding tissue (predominantly among adolescents and young adult males) often improve rapidly after rest and medication.
Can People with Medical Conditions Get Vaccinated?
Responding to this question, one of the experts explained that there are vulnerable children whose COVID will compromise their immune system and must be protected. Research shows that many medical conditions, like developmental disabilities and chronic lung disease, put people at a heightened risk of serious illness if they contract COVID 19. Scientific evidence proves that many people who participated in the clinical trials had underlying health conditions, and the vaccine was safe and effective. Additionally, many people in the public who have underlying medical conditions are also vaccinated, and there are fewer casualties afterward. “Therefore, people with any medical condition can get vaccinated unless they have an allergic reaction to a COVID-19 vaccine ingredient,” says Dr. Kass.
“People don’t need to stop taking prescription medicine when they receive their vaccination,” she added.
Effect of COVID-19 Vaccine on Fertility or Development of Children and Teens before Puberty
The experts emphasized the lack of evidence that vaccines cause female or male fertility problems. The same is a lack of evidence that the vaccine’s ingredients, including mRNA or antibodies, can cause many problems with people getting pregnant, affecting puberty now or in the future. “We know it doesn’t affect fertility as many women have become pregnant even after taking the vaccine. It is also important that if you are pregnant, you should get vaccinated so that you can protect yourself and your unborn baby,” says Dr. Kass.
Should People get COVID 19 Vaccine if previously Infected?
In response, the Commissioner explained that the CDC and other experts recommend getting vaccinated even if you already had COVID 19. “The unequivocal answer is ‘yes’; the vaccine generates a high level of antibody than the so-called ‘natural immunity’ without vaccine can ever generate. The vaccine can generate a high level of antibody more than the natural immunity.”
He explained that getting vaccinated is a safe way to support the strengthening of the immune system. It also lowers the chance of reinfection, as the vaccine may also give better protection against new and more contagious variants. “Several discussions have been held on how long you are protected if you have the infection and weren’t vaccinated. We noticed that after about 90 days, the protection from infection starts to wear off, while it might last up to eight months in some people. However, it is unpredictable, and people risk getting COVID again,” said Dr. Vasan. Experts report that there is no evidence that COVID 19 will cause a person to react badly to the vaccines. However, recently infected people should consider delaying their next vaccine dose by three months, whether primary or booster, from the symptom onset or positive test.
They also explained that the COVID 19 vaccine can be taken before, after, or simultaneously when they receive other vaccines like Flu, anti-tetanus, etc.
Concerns about the Components of the COVID-19 vaccine?
“The vaccine consists of a particular type of sugar, salt, protein, and fat layer that helps to slip the ingredients into the cell. The health commissioner explained that there are minor differences between the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines. They are effective for kids between 6 months to 4 years for Pfizer but up to 5 years for Moderna. While Pfizer gives little quantity over the three doses, Moderna gives a slightly higher quantity over two. The experts reiterated that the best way to prevent the virus and protect yourself and your family from the worst effects is to get vaccinated and boosted. The CDC’s recommendation of the vaccines for very young children, including those previously infected with Covid-19, is to get still vaccinated.
“Although we are no longer in an emergency, we are still on the path where COVID is endemic, so share accurate information from authentic sources. Let’s focus on facts and information as a society, as people who want better lives for ourselves, our family, and our community,” says Dr. Vasan.