Local Pediatricians Urge Parents To Get Kids Vaccinated

Lily Barsi, 7, and her older brother Daniel, 8, of East Setauket, were part of a clinical trial for the COVID-19 vaccine at Stony Brook Hospital. STONY BROOK MEDICINE

East End doctors are encouraging parents to consult with their child’s pediatrician now that every kid 5 years and older is eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

Last Tuesday, a panel of experts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention authorized the lower dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to protect younger children against the coronavirus. Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the CDC director, signed off on the recommendation that cleared the way for the parents of 28 million children between the ages of 5 and 11 in the United States to get their kids vaccinated.

“It’s a significant and important development in the fight against this disease,” Stony Brook Southampton Hospital Medical Director Dr. Fredric Weinbaum said on Monday. “Don’t believe it when some talking head says kids don’t get sick. Yeah, most do better than adults, but that’s true with influenza — and a lot of children die from influenza.

“Any death of a child is a tragedy. Thank God we have a vaccine that’s proven to be effective.”

American Academy of Pediatrics President Dr. Lee Savio-Beers said pediatricians are ready and eager to talk to families about getting their children vaccinated. “We want to ensure that access to this vaccine is equitable, and that every child is able to benefit,” she said. “Sharing this life-saving vaccine with our children is a huge step forward and provides us all with more confidence and optimism about the future.”

Those at East Hampton-based East End Pediatrics, PC, and Stony Brook Southampton Hospital agree. From March 2020 through October 2021, Dr. Weinbaum said, there have been more than 8,300 cases of hospitalization of children 5 to 11 with COVID-19, adding that the age group is also most susceptible to multisystem inflammatory syndrome, a rare but serious condition associated with the coronavirus in which different body parts become inflamed, including the heart, lungs, kidneys, brain, skin, eyes or gastrointestinal organs.

“We at EEPeds are excited to start vaccinating the kids of our community,” East End Pediatrics said in a November 2 statement, before asking families to refer to the “What’s New” section of its website, follow them on Facebook or message the office through the patient portal to join a waiting list for vaccine clinic info.

Post-COVID conditions are also commonly reported in children — long COVID, as it is commonly called — which include difficulty breathing or shortness of breath, tiredness or fatigue, difficulty thinking or concentrating (sometimes referred to as “brain fog”), cough, headache, diarrhea, sleep problems, fever, dizziness on standing, and mood changes, among other symptoms.

Dr. Weinbaum said COVID-19 is also currently the eighth-leading cause of death in children ages 5 to 11.

“We vaccinate children for a lot of things,” the medical director said, adding that the average number of deaths per year prior to vaccines for chickenpox between 1990 and 1994 was about 16 deaths per year. For COVID-19 between October 2020 and October 2021, there were 66 deaths among children 5 to 11. “There’s a lot of really good reasons for kids to be vaccinated,” Dr. Weinbaum said. “It’s effective, it’s safe, and there are more deaths from COVID-19 than there were per year from Neisseria meningitidis, often referred to as meningococcus; chickenpox; rubella; hepatitis A — from all sorts of viral infections. So COVID-19 is a serious infection for children.”

Dr. Sharon Nachman, a SUNY Stony Brook professor of pediatrics and associate dean for research for the Renaissance School of Medicine, said Monday that the big thing to note is that the dose is lower than that for adults — the vaccine for children is 10 micrograms per dose, as opposed to 30 micrograms for adults. Dr. Nachman said this has resulted in two significant findings.

“First, their immune response is as good, if not better, than adults, but also the local reactions seem to be somewhat less than adults with that lower dose,” she said. “It also means something in the short term. If your child has been vaccinated or exposed to someone who has COVID, they don’t need to be isolated anymore — which means that they can stay in school and a part of their regular activities with no problem.”

A clinical Pfizer trial of 2,268 children ages of 5 to 11 showed the vaccine was more than 90 percent effective in preventing symptomatic infection. Dr. Weinbaum said that near 91 percent is “actually really good for a vaccine.”

Pfizer said there were some side effects, including pain at the injection site, fatigue, headache, muscle pain and chills, though a lesser percentage of kids reported side effects than adolescents, teens or adults. Children will still need a second dose, and whether a booster shot will be needed remains to be seen.

“Most important is to not listen to the echo chamber that parents are seeing in regards to the myths surrounding vaccinations. They hear myths so often that it begins to sound like truth. It’s not. Talk to your child’s pediatrician,” Dr. Nachman said. “Any family that is vaccine hesitant needs to discuss their concerns with their child’s medical provider — the expert in their child’s medical care. Looking on social media or chatting with people in hallways isn’t protecting their kids as much it is discussing it with a physician.”

As of November 5, nearly two million children ages 5 to 11 in the United States are known to have been infected with the coronavirus, and 8,300 have been hospitalized, according to the CDC. A third of those hospitalized were admitted to intensive care units, and at least 170 have died. More than 120,000 children in the United States have lost a parent or caregiver to the disease. Suffolk County has 152,574 children ages 5 to 13, according to 2019 population estimates by the U.S. Census Bureau.

“Vaccinating children means that we’re not ignoring the 25 percent of our population that has yet to be vaccinated but is still at risk of getting infected and passing it on,” Dr. Nachman said. “Children are not immune from this infection. While for the most part they handle it quite well, we still have a fairly large population of children who are getting sick, some of whom are hospitalized and most of whom are passing that infection on to the rest of their family. Getting children vaccinated means that our ability to get to herd immunity is that much closer.”

Dr. Nachman said the state has been shipping out vaccines not only to pods, but also to community providers. There’s also been a push among many school districts to be able to administers shots in the arms of children who are brought in by their parents or guardians.

“We’ve spoken to the hospital about the possibility,” East Hampton Superintendent Adam Fine said, adding that Stony Brook Southampton Hospital officials are ready and willing. “As this plays out, we’ll continue that dialogue — that we possibly could offer that in our school setting as we did with other doses.”

Many districts, along with hospitals, doctor’s offices and pharmacies, have been offering the COVID-19 vaccine and booster shots to teens and adults. Booster shots were approved last month and recommended for everyone who received the Johnson & Johnson (Janssen) vaccine and for those 65 years or older, 18 and older who live in long-term care settings, 18 and older who have underlying medical conditions and 18 or older who work or live in high-risk settings. Mix-and-matching vaccine boosters has also been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

“There’s no treatment, medication, vaccine or anything that is 100 percent risk-free,” Dr. Weinbaum said. “But the Delta variant is very, very contagious, and the risk of getting COVID-19 and getting sick from or dying from the coronavirus is much greater than any risk that occurs with vaccination.”