SSix months ago, in the hustle and bustle of Christmas activities, I quickly wiped the noses of my girls (and my own) for COVID-19. They are 3 years old and 1.5 years old. No one had symptoms, but we would see their great-grandfather and we wanted to be especially careful. As an epidemiologist, I knew we were in the midst of a COVID-19 tsunami, children are fantastic silent transmitters of COVID-19, and the elderly are in highest risk for severe puncture infections. Fifteen minutes later, and to my great surprise, my girls’ tests were positive. (My husband and I received a booster a month earlier and have never tested positive). Needless to say, our plans have changed. Instead of reuniting with the family, we spent Christmas at home with snotty noses, fever, no appetite, and a very tired mom.
A version of this is being played out for millions of families in the US While we were lucky enough to experience only moderate symptoms, others were not so lucky. During this wave, COVID-19 hospitalizations among children under 5 years of age increased more than any other pediatric age group. Eighty-six percent of these hospitalizations were for COVID-19 (as opposed to s COVID-19). Young children’s hospitalizations have surpassed previous flu peaks and far surpassed them previous peaks of COVID-19. From young children hospitalized for COVID-19, 1 in 4 went to the intensive care unit. This wave has significantly increased the mortality from COVID-19 in young children even now more than 400 children under the age of 4 have died from the virus. Mortality from COVID-19 for this age group is higher than for any other vaccine-preventable disease, and COVID-19 is in the top 10 reason of death in general for children.
Of course, so far this age group did not qualify for vaccination against COVID-19. But after rigorous clinical trials (as well as some failures such as Pfizer-BioNTech works to get the right number of injections and dosage), The FDA authorized emergency use and the CDC recommended vaccines against COVID-19 for children aged 6 months. In this moment 75% of children under the age of 18 have been infected with the virus. Including my girls. However, my daughters will receive the vaccine as soon as possible.
There are many reasons to vaccinate my children when they already have COVID-19.
Reinfection from other respiratory viruses is common and should be expected in SARS-CoV-2. In fact, Recurrent infections with COVID-19 happen more often. Very recent scientific PROOF showed some children under 18 years of age failed to produce antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 after confirmed infection (first line of defense of the immune system) and have mediocre T-cell responses (second line of defense of the immune system). This is not surprising. The quality of the immune response depends on the severity of the infection. If the child had a mild infection (which many do), then there was probably a lower viral dose and extensive protection is less likely. This means that we are not sure what will happen when they come in contact with the virus again and I want my girls to have optimal protection.
Omicron is also changing very fast. SARS-CoV-2 mutates four times faster than the flu. Latest scientific PROOF shows neutralizing antibodies from infection in winter (from variants BA.1 or BA.2) does not protect well from new circulating versions of Omicron (called BA.4 / 5). In addition, neutralizing antibodies decrease rapidly. It is likely that six months after the infection, my girls’ first line of defense has largely disappeared (if they have received adequate antibodies at all). Although it is clear that we need second-generation vaccines for long-term protection against infections, such as nasal vaccinesvaccine right now, in the middle of a wave, will help temporarily prevent infection (and reduce the chances of Long COVID).
We are also not good at predicting what will happen in the future. Installation PROOF shows that Omicron infection in unvaccinated people does not cause neutralizing antibodies against other dangerous variants. While Omicron is the dominant option right now, that could certainly change in the future. And if, for example, another option emerges that is far more severe, relying on immunity caused by infection would be a disaster. Unfortunately, we do not know when the next option for concern will come. Maybe tomorrow. It can happen in 10 years. If it’s tomorrow, though, I want my girls protected.
Getting vaccinated and recovering from a past infection is called “hybrid immunity” and more than 20 studies in adults have shown that hybrid immunity significantly increases broad protection against infections and severe illness over time. Vaccine immunity is targeted to thorn protein, and infection-induced immunity is targeted to the entire virus. That doesn’t mean you have to we purposefully expose our children to COVID-19but we must acknowledge the strong protection that this combination offers.
Finally, the vaccine is safe. Side effects during Moderna and Pfizer clinical trials are minimal. Yes, the majority of young children were irritable and tired after the vaccine and 1 in 4 Moderna recipients had a fever (this is typical for young children’s vaccines). But these symptoms were short-lived and signs that the vaccine was working. No cases of myocarditis have been reported in any clinical trials. That was great, but expected. Clinical trials were not large enough to capture such a rare event. Based on safety monitoring in children aged 5 to 11 years, myocarditis after COVID-19 mRNA vaccination in young children is expected to be rare due to lower doses of RNA and myocarditis, which is fundamentally different in young children. The data will be closely monitored. However, children can get myocarditis from an infection that is more severe than myocarditis after vaccination. We do not expect long-term serious side effects from these vaccines, given our extensive knowledge of their ingredients. Scientists have studied mRNA vaccines from the 1990s and extensive real-world data for both older children and adults, including pregnant peopleshow that the vaccine against COVID-19 is safe and effective.
More than seven months have passed since The CDC has recommended vaccines against COVID-19 for children 5 to 11 years of age. Since then, our youngest children have been waiting their turn. For me, the benefits of these newly recommended vaccines clearly outweigh the risks. This week I will be queuing up to protect my girls from this vaccine-preventable disease. I hope that you will join me and protect your children.
More stories to read from TIME