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Pediatrician emphasizes safety of the Pfizer vaccine for young kids and stresses the importance of the shot

A worker in a face shields inoculates a child with the Pfizer vaccine
Courtesy of Community Health of South Florida, Inc.

Schools and clinics across South Florida are organizing voluntary vaccination events to protect 5- to 11-year-old children against COVID-19.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently approved that this group receive one-third the dose of the two-dose Pfizer vaccine for adults.

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WLRN’s Veronica Zaragovia spoke with Dr. Alanna Sedor, a pediatrician who works at Community Health of South Florida, Inc., in Homestead — where staff speaks English, Spanish and Haitian Creole. Sedor explained the urgency she feels to vaccinate this newly eligible group of children.

Below is an excerpt of their conversation which has been lightly edited for clarity.

WLRN: Children have often had more mild cases of COVID-19 compared to adults. Why should they still get vaccinated against COVID-19?

SEDOR: We're seeing hundreds of thousands of kids test positive. We're having thousands of kids being hospitalized. It's actually come to a point where COVID-19 has become one of the top 10 causes of death within the past year for that age group for 5 to 11 [year olds]. So even though it's affecting the older population more, it's having a big impact and it's really important to get that age group protected. Some of these kids are ending up intubated. Some of these kids are ending up on what's called ECMO, which is essentially a machine to pump your heart and breathe for you. Some of them have pretty serious cases.

Are there any side effects of the vaccine that parents should know?

The study in this age group of ages 5 to 11, they showed no serious adverse events. The kids had similar side effects to the pain at the injection site — some body aches, headaches, things like that, but no serious adverse events were reported. There were no cases of anaphylaxis, like serious allergic reaction, and there were no cases of myocarditis. Of course, we don't want anyone to have inflammation of their heart. Also important to point out that you are more likely to get myocarditis after you get COVID-19 infection than you are after the vaccine. There's no risk-free choice, but you have to go with the lower risk and here, we're seeing lower risk with the vaccine.

Why do you urge parents to not delay the COVID-19 vaccination for their children with a "let's wait and see" approach?

People essentially have two choices. Very soon their children are either going to get vaccinated or they're going to get COVID-19. So you have to decide: "Am I going to let my child be exposed to COVID 19 without any protection, without any immunity and kind of let this virus run its course?" And then that is also concerning for what are the long-term effects of COVID. We've seen these long COVID symptoms — people needing oxygen and support. We've seen that the vaccine is both safe and effective. It was 90.7 percent effective in preventing symptomatic COVID in this age group, so it works, and it's safe.

The children ages 5 to 11 will be getting a third of the dose, so it's 10 micrograms for their vaccines. The timing is the same, so it is very important that they go to get the second dose 21 days or three weeks after the first dose. So that second dose is very important to boost your memory immunity. Remember to make your appointment and go back and get the second dose to be completely immunized.

If someone's child is 11, should they wait until their kid turns 12 to get them the higher dose? Or should they just go and do it now? 

I would say go ahead and do it now. There's no reason to wait for that dose.

Would you recommend for a child to get a flu vaccine and a COVID-19 vaccine, and can they do it at the same time on the same day?

Definitely. We are coming into flu season, or coming into the winter. Even though here in South Florida we don't get so much of a winter season, still, flu could be popping up and is safe to get both vaccines. They can get them on the same day. There's no problem. So definitely, I encourage patients to get both the COVID and the flu vaccines.

Verónica Zaragovia was born in Cali, Colombia, and grew up in South Florida. She’s been a lifelong WLRN listener and is proud to cover health care, as well as Surfside and Miami Beach politics for the station. Contact Verónica at vzaragovia@wlrnnews.org
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