When it comes to vaccines, you should trust your pediatrician. Or, better yet, you should trust big public health organizations like the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that have panels of experts who know more than you — or Google, for that matter — about what’s best for your kid. So, yes, signing up your child for a COVID vaccine is a no-brainer for keeping them and the rest of your family in tip-top shape. The AAP, CDC, and many children’s hospitals say as much, citing extensive studies of the Pfizer vaccine in kids.
But then there’s that malingering fear — rumors, really — about infertility, or myocarditis, or long-term side effects that haven’t yet been discovered. These fears are fueled by misinformation, but it can be difficult to find the truth when COVID vaccine myths are so widespread.
So if such information has you on edge, fair enough. Here’s some misinformation-battling that should help you get your head straight — and your kid safe, with a shot in the arm.
Myth #1: COVID Doesn’t Hurt Kids
If COVID doesn’t hurt kids, then there’s no reason to get your child vaccinated, right? But the thing is, COVID does hurt, disable, and kill kids. In the U.S. 5,526 children have had the COVID-linked Multisystem Inflammatory System in Children (MIS-C), 4,330 have been hospitalized with COVID, and 700 have died. Kids who have a mild infection are at somewhat of a risk for long COVID. Even scarier, they could face long-term health risks later in life that scientists don’t know about yet. And for kids ages 5-11, COVID was the eighth leading cause of death over the past year, according to NPR.
It’s true that, in general, kids are at low risk for severe COVID. They’re much less likely to get seriously ill from the virus than their grandparents are. But it still happens, and just two shots reduces the risk of kids ages 5-11 getting COVID by 91 percent. (Kids with underlying conditions such as asthma, obesity, and neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism and ADHD are at higher risk of severe disease.)
Of course, health effects aren’t the only way COVID hurts kids. If they catch COVID, they’ll have to quarantine at home, missing school time (and probably keeping you home from work).
Myth #2: Kids Don’t Transmit COVID
If you’re not particularly worried about your child getting sick, you might think it’s okay not to get them vaccinated. But the thing is, kids can and do transmit COVID. If they get an infection, even an asymptomatic one, they can pass it on to others. How likely is this? The science isn’t certain. Kids may be less likely than adults to transmit COVID, or they may not be.
In any case, it’s obvious that children can get others sick. So even if grandpa is vaccinated, your kid could give him a breakthrough case, and that could kill him. For the safety of your family and your community – and to end this pandemic as quickly as possible – it makes sense to vaccinate your kid.
Myth #3: The COVID Vaccine Could Cause Unknown Long-Term Effects
Some vaccine-hesitant parents are concerned the COVID vaccine could cause long-term health complications that won’t show up in their child for months or years. After all, the vaccines have only been tested in adults for little over a year and half. They’ve only been tested in children for eight months.
But it’s highly unlikely that side effects would show up later down the line. The body breaks down the mRNA in the vaccine within days. The other ingredients break down in just a few weeks or less. Besides, “side effects nearly always occur within a couple of weeks of a person being vaccinated,” John Grabenstein, director of scientific communication for the Immunization Action Coalition, told National Geographic. The longest time he’s seen it take for a side effect to appear after a shot is six weeks, the amount of time that it takes the mRNA COVID vaccines to finish stimulating the body’s immune system. And hundreds of millions of people in the U.S. alone have already received the vaccine; none have reported any side effects cropping up months after their shot.
Myth #4: The Kids’ COVID Vaccine Has Many Serious Side Effects Like Myocarditis
Serious complications in kids from the COVID vaccine are rare. One of the biggest worries for parents is myocarditis, a type of heart inflammation. Only a small number of adolescents who have received the COVID vaccine developed this condition, which is usually treatable and doesn’t cause long-term complications. One study found that the risk of myocarditis after the second Pfizer shot was 54 cases per million in boys ages 12-17, who are more likely than girls to develop the condition, according to the CDC. In clinical trials, no kids aged 5-11 developed myocarditis. Importantly, children are more likely to get the condition from COVID than from the vaccine.
A small number of people who receive the COVID vaccine have an allergic reaction called anaphylaxis. But this is rare, and it’s why you wait around for 15-30 minutes after getting your vaccine. If your child does have an allergic reaction, medical professionals are on standby to help.
And because children get a lower dose, the COVID vaccine in kids also tends to cause less of the common short-term side effects, such as fever, fatigue, and headache.
Myth #5: The COVID Vaccine Can Cause Infertility
Not only is there no proof that the COVID vaccine causes infertility, but there’s also evidence that it doesn’t impact your child’s future ability to have a baby. One study found that after receiving the Moderna and Pfizer vaccine, men’s semen volume and sperm concentration and motility actually increased. Another study found that pregnancy rates were the same in women who were vaccinated and those who weren’t after embryo transfers. And during the vaccine trials, accidental pregnancies and miscarriages occurred at similar rates in the vaccine and placebo groups.
In contrast, COVID may cause erectile dysfunction, low testosterone, and low sperm count. People who get COVID when they’re pregnant are more likely to give birth to a premature baby, be sent to the ICU, and die.
Myth #6: The COVID Vaccine Was Rushed
The COVID vaccine was the fastest vaccine ever made, by years. But researchers didn’t get the job done by rushing the process; they did it with some very innovative science.
The Pfizer vaccine was the first mRNA vaccine ever to be authorized for use in the U.S. But mRNA technology isn’t experimental. Scientists have been researching mRNA vaccines for more than a decade, so they were able to whip up the new COVID vaccines in just a few days. And researchers have been studying the family of coronaviruses for 50 years, so they knew that the vaccines could work by targeting the spike protein, according to Nebraska Medicine. In other words, vaccine development took barely any time to complete because of all the pre-work scientists had done.
Of course, the bigger worry parents seem to have is that the trials themselves were rushed. After all, vaccine trials usually take much longer than they did for the COVID vaccines. But that’s mostly due to the fact that COVID was causing a global pandemic – not that the vaccines were rushed.
What is that? Well, the first hurdle in clinical trials is getting enough people to enroll in them. That was relatively easy for the COVID vaccines because lots of people wanted their chance at early protection from COVID.
Next, vaccine trials usually go through three phases of testing before being authorized or approved. Scientists were able to conduct some of the trial phases at the same time to complete testing faster than they would otherwise be able to.
Finally, to determine whether or not the vaccines are effective, a certain number of people in the control group need to come down with COVID. When studying some vaccines, it can take significantly over a year for enough people to get the disease in question. But because of the global pandemic, trials were able to hit this threshold in just a few months.
Additionally, it usually takes the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) 10 months to review a new drug because of, well, bureaucracy. But the FDA prioritized the COVID vaccines and authorized them in less than a month.
Myth #7: The COVID Vaccine Is Killing People
The Johnson & Johnson vaccine killed three people by causing rare blood clots, but there is no evidence that the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines have led to any deaths, a CDC spokesperson told Reuters. Misinformation that the COVID vaccines are killing people is based on misinterpretation of data reported to the government about anyone who dies from any cause after getting vaccinated. For nearly all of these people, the vaccine played no role in their death. On the other hand, COVID has now killed more than 759,000 people in the U.S.
Myth #8: It’s Safer to Wait and See Than to Get Your Kid Vaccinated Now
Some parents want to wait until more children have gotten the COVID vaccine before they sign up their own for the shot. But we already know that the COVID vaccine is safe for kids. Vaccine trials need to guarantee not only efficacy, but also safety before the vaccine can be authorized. That’s exactly what they’ve done.
Just like for adults, side effects for kids are generally mild and last for only a day or two. Serious complications are exceedingly rare. If a parent is waiting to see if any other serious complications crop up, they shouldn’t. Because if a side effect hasn’t made an appearance yet, it must be incredibly rare and is unlikely to affect your kid. And it’s highly unlikely that there just hasn’t been enough time for a common complication to turn up yet.
So there’s really no reason to wait. We already know that the vaccines are safe. And while you’re waiting, your kid could get infected with COVID.
Myth #9: The Risks of the COVID Vaccine Outweigh the Benefits
Kids are at much lower risk of severe COVID than adults, so the risk-benefit analysis of the vaccine is going to be different. That much is true.
To recap, these are the benefits of the COVID vaccine for kids:
- Much lower chance of infection, hospitalization, and death
- Much lower chance of spreading COVID, prolonging the pandemic
- Much lower chance of having to miss school and stay home due to a COVID scare
The risk of the COVID vaccine for kids:
- Very low risk of a complication such as myocarditis or anaphylaxis
- The unknown (scary, but very low risk of long-term side effects we’re unaware of)
So when it comes down to it, the benefits of the COVID vaccine for kids far outweigh the risks. This is especially true because we’re still in a global pandemic. In much of the country, COVID rates are high, families are spending more time indoors with winter approaching, and new variants could arise at any moment. So although the risk-benefit analysis could change once COVID becomes more like the flu, that’s not the case right now. It’s time to vaccinate the kids.