PARK RAPIDS, Minn. Area doctors are expressing confidence in the medical science that led to approval of a COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 5-11.

Dr. Sarah Frenning, a pediatrician at Essentia Health Park Rapids Clinic; Dr. Johnna Nynas, an obstetrician-gynecologist at Sanford Bemidji Medical Center; and Dr. Jill Olson, a family physician at Sanford Family Medicine in Bemidji, all followed the progress of studies on Pfizer’s pediatric vaccine.

The doctors said in interviews that they would not only recommend the vaccine in their clinical practice, but would have their own children immunized as soon as possible.

With the delta variant, Olson said, cases of children with COVID-19 have increased disproportionately. She cited an American Academy of Pediatrics report saying that almost 25% of COVID-19 cases in recent weeks were pediatric cases.

“We’re seeing it now more in children,” she said, “and we are seeing rates of hospitalization increase across the country.”

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COVID-19 is unpredictable, Nynas said, with some patients having a mild or asymptomatic case and others ending up in intensive care.

“As a physician, that’s extremely terrifying to consider,” she said. “And as a parent, that’s my fear for my kids.”

Dr. Jill Olson, Dr. Johnna Nynas and Dr. Sarah Frenning
Contributed / Sanford Health and Essentia Health, Oct. 26-Nov. 4, 2021
Dr. Jill Olson, Dr. Johnna Nynas and Dr. Sarah Frenning Contributed / Sanford Health and Essentia Health, Oct. 26-Nov. 4, 2021

Benefits vs. risks

Frenning said the FDA and the CDC carefully weighed the efficacy and safety of Pfizer’s pediatric dose, finding that the benefits outweigh the risks.

Evidence from studies on 5- to 11-year-olds shows that the Pfizer vaccine is 90.7% effective in that age group, Frenning said, while no severe adverse outcomes were traced to the vaccine. The most common side effects were fatigue, headache and muscle pain, more common after the second dose but typically less severe than in adults.

Olson called it “the most studied vaccine that we’ve ever had. Over 3.8 billion people have gotten it. Of that, 247 million were pediatrics, ages 12 and older.”

She said the FDA is “definitely not rushing this process. They’re careful, and they’re asking very pointed questions, and they’re very transparent. So, I have zero concerns with the safety of this vaccine.”

Nynas explained the shot’s side effects as an immune response the vaccine triggers.

“Most of the types are pretty mild,” she said. “They last less than a couple days.”

In children, Nynas said, the most common symptoms reported in the trials was redness or swelling around the injection site. “There can be some fatigue and tiredness and some muscle aches and occasional fevers,” she added.

The Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for ages 5-11 went live Thursday, Nov. 4, 2021 at Sanford Health.
Contributed / Sanford Health
The Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for ages 5-11 went live Thursday, Nov. 4, 2021 at Sanford Health. Contributed / Sanford Health

The FDA looked at the risk of myocarditis induced by the vaccine. “It’s a concern that a lot of my parents ask me about,” said Nynas.

The condition, an inflammation around the heart, is most often reported among older teenage boys after getting the shot. However, Nynas said, myocarditis can happen after any vaccine or with any illness. In her practice, she has seen it associated with the influenza virus. It can be treated with anti-inflammatory drugs and usually lasts less than a week.

Frenning said cases of myocarditis following the jab tend to be relatively mild, while the risk of myocarditis is higher with COVID-19 and cases are more severe.

“It’s actually a much scarier prospect getting it from COVID,” she said.

Trusted with their kids

Olson’s children, ages 7 and 9, received the jab as soon as it was available. Regarding her youngest daughter, Olson has hopes for a similar study of 2- to 4-year-olds, “and I have no doubt I will gladly vaccinate her as soon as she’s able.”

Nynas also had her daughter, 6, vaccinated the day the juvenile vaccine went live. Compared to vaccine risks, Nynas said even a mild COVID case could result in missed school, social impacts and long-term complications such as persistent cough, brain fog and fatigue, sometimes lasting indefinitely.

“We’re seeing that in about 8% of cases amongst children,” she said.

Thinking of her kids ages 2, 7 and 9, Frenning said, “In the exam room, the strongest thing I can say is, I will be putting it in my children’s arms. … This is safe for kids, and this is effective against this horrible virus, and it’s also the right thing to do for our community and our loved ones.”

Bottom line, Olson said, “As a physician, I completely recommend it. As a parent, I completely recommend it.”