You Should Vaccinate Your Child Against COVID-19
I've given away the point of this article in the title. You deserve to know what my reasons are. I've had this discussion with many people, and as I've scanned many medical articles in the past months, I am feeling more confident than ever that I am correct. I've written about this subject in the Tribuna before. You may notice that I have borrowed from that previous article. The points are still valid.
The first thing you have to understand is what we're trying to accomplish. I guess that's obvious. We would like to live our lives the way we did before the pandemic showed up. The last time we had a pandemic was 1917-18 when influenza terrorized our communities. There was no treatment and no vaccine, and millions died. The obvious truth is that influenza never went away, but it's a seasonal illness, and we are able to live a more normal life when the virus is dormant. People who survived the influenza pandemic did develop a certain amount of immunity, but the mortality rate was staggering.
The problem with eradicating influenza is also its saving grace – it tends to mutate very regularly, so every year there is the possibility of different strains that are less dangerous. Nevertheless, even with the opportunity to be immunized, the people of the United States have given lip service to the concept of protection by vaccination, and even in mild years 30,000 people die from influenza. Another problem is that with rapidly mutating strains, we need to guess in advance which strains will show up and try to develop a new vaccine every year and then convince people to get vaccinated. Here's an interesting fact about influenza – it's spread through our children. In Japan one year when childhood immunization against influenza was mandated, nobody over 65 died from influenza. And the influenza vaccine, unlike the COVID-19 vaccine, doesn't work as well for older people as it does for children. For every virus, though, the thought is that to control an epidemic we need to vaccinate a very large number of people, in fact more than 90% – and that includes children. No vaccine is 100% effective. What works is having a very small number of people who are susceptible surrounded by a large number who aren't. With viruses the mutations occur with the transmission. As a more successful example, we were so successful with smallpox vaccination that smallpox was completely wiped out.
So let's talk about COVID-19. Coronavirus differs in some important ways from influenza. It actually doesn't mutate as well as influenza, the new m-RNA vaccines are exceptionally effective in developing lasting immunity, and it is clearly more serious in elderly people, especially people over the age of 65 who are overweight or have other serious medical conditions. We have discovered novel treatments that can reduce the severity of the illness if the treatments are started early enough, but the consequences of the disease can still be long-lasting. Coronavirus spread is so effective because people without symptoms, especially children, can still be spreading the virus. Immunization reduces the transmission of coronavirus, but not completely.
For those who are hesitant to subject their children to this vaccine, let me provide some reassurance. There has been a great deal of attention to the effectiveness and the side effects of the vaccine. We have not seen many side effects since the vaccines have been developed. In children the side effects are related to the dosage, and in the 5-12 year age group the dosage is one-tenth of the adult dose. The side effects may include some soreness and some fever. The children have done very well with this vaccine. Interestingly enough, the immune response, which identifies how protected the children are, is the same as in the adults who are getting ten times the dose! Similarly for the 12-17 year age group where the dose is one-third to one-half, and the response is equivalent to the adult vaccine.
In general, public health experts are unlikely to insist that children get vaccinated against a disease just to protect adults, but our experience is that children can get very sick and even die from COVID-19. They are only relatively less likely to suffer from the serious forms of this disease. And many who have relatively minor symptoms still can take months to recover. We cannot protect our children from COVID-19 by immunizing all the adults around them. For one thing, we've done a pretty poor job of getting all the adults to step up. As a method for controlling this virus we need to enlist our entire population. We need to protect ourselves and we need to protect each other. You need to vaccinate yourself against COVID-19, and you need to vaccinate your children against COVID-19.
Robert B. Golenbock, MD