Vaccinating Kids Ages 12—15 an Important Step Toward Normal

By Dr. Jill Walsh, Pediatrician and Chair, Department of Pediatrics, Dignity Health Mercy Medical Group

The COVID-19 pandemic has put serious demands on our children – stay away from friends, stay away from school and activities, stay away from grandparents. Attend classes online (and actually learn!). And in too many households, children are struggling to understand the loss of a loved one or what’s happening if a parent has endured a job loss due to COVID. It is a tremendous understatement to say that the pandemic has taken a toll on the mental, spiritual and physical wellbeing of our youth.

But there is hope for a return to some normalcy: adolescents ages 12-17 are now eligible for COVID vaccination. As a practicing pediatrician for more than three decades, I am thankful that I can now offer my patients and their families more protection against the spread of disease and a chance to give back so many of the things that we’ve taken away from our children over the past year.

My support of the COVID vaccine comes from a doctor who understands that parents may have concerns and some aren’t comfortable with vaccines. My philosophy is to listen carefully to everyone who steps into my office and partner with them to ensure the best outcome for their child. I provide parents with information so that they can make the most educated decision, including content from trusted sources such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

There is a great deal of misinformation circulating, and it is important that parents know:

  • The COVID vaccine is new, but the technology used to develop the vaccine has been used in cancer treatments for years and the original research is decades old.

  • Children with allergies are still good candidates for the vaccine. The rate of anaphylaxis due to the vaccine is very low, and as adults who have had the vaccine know, everyone is watched for at least 15 minutes after their shot is administered, with medical professionals standing by ready to respond immediately if needed.

  • There is no link to autism for this vaccine or any other vaccine.

Since the onset of COVID, we have seen an evolution in how this virus affects people, including children, and as a result we have had to adapt to prevent its spread. When the pandemic first struck, we in the medical community were not seeing children harboring and transmitting COVID-19 at the same rate as adults. The risk for young people was minimal, and hospitalization for children was rare.

But today, especially in the Midwest, we are now seeing a more significant impact of variants on children, including high rates of infectivity. Some kids are unwittingly transmitting the virus to their loved ones. Others, harder hit by the illness, are being hospitalized and in some cases are following a path similar to that we have seen in adults who have COVID-19. These are not fleeting cases of the virus: children, too, are experiencing long-lasting issues, for months at a time after the initial infection, what we would call “long-haulers.” Again, an issue that we were previously only seeing in adults.

This is why I am very excited that children ages 12-17 can now access the vaccine, why this is an important and exciting milestone. The vaccine means that more families will be protected, including younger siblings who are not yet eligible for a vaccine. It means that we will decrease the variants, which are emerging all the time. It means we will get closer to herd immunity and closer to ending the pandemic. It means that we are one giant step toward getting back to normal, and for our kids’ sake, normal can’t come too soon. We know all too well the holistic, negative impact that this pandemic has had on kids, the struggles with isolation, depression and anxiety. We must get kids back to school, back to sports and other activities, and back to time with friends and family. The quickest path back to normal is getting people of all ages vaccinated.

To parents, guardians and caregivers everywhere, I share this: In the more than 30 years I have served families, I have been privileged to witness the development, introduction and delivery of vaccines which then prevented serious diseases, and as a result, I and others in the medical profession have seen a significant decrease in the frequency of bacterial meningitis, overwhelming infection and pneumonia in our patients. This is the miracle of modern medicine. Let’s come together in our common purpose: the health and wellbeing of your child.