COVID

Ashish Jha is getting his kid vaccinated, and here’s why he says you should, too

"[Parents] want to do the right thing, in frighteningly unfamiliar circumstances."

Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff
Although younger children have been deemed to be at "lower risk" than the older population for COVID-19, Dr. Ashish Jha says that it is common misinformation to think that children are more protected from the infection. Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

After a long consideration process, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorized the emergency use of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for children aged 5 to 11 Friday. The approval comes after a rigorous study of vaccines in young children with a trial conducted with approximately 3,100 children.

The doses will be administered three weeks apart with a lower dose than that given to children over the age of 12. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will now determine whether the shots will be given to those who are high risk or whether they will be available immediately to every child in that age range.

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With the vaccine getting authorized within this week, the dean of Brown University’s School of Public Health believes the CDC should allow all children to get vaccinated as quickly as possible.

“COVID vaccine is like other vaccines, except COVID vaccines have been more closely studied than any vaccine ever,” wrote Dr. Ashish Jha in a Twitter thread. “They’ve been given to 3.8 billion people including millions of kids and vaccines save lives, as will this vaccine, which is why I’m getting my kid vaccinated.”

In a Time magazine opinion piece, Jha outlined the risks and benefits that the COVID vaccine would have on his 9-year-old kid and children across the country.

Although younger children have been deemed to be at “lower risk” than the older population against COVID-19, Jha says that it is common misinformation to think that children are more protected from the infection. Instead, the risk of COVID-19 for children should be thought of in terms of what other risks children face.

In 2020, COVID-19 ranked sixth in the leading causes of death for young children aged 5 to 11. The flu, by comparison, ranks approximately eighth and sees on average around 150 deaths per year. Jha emphasized that people must begin to accept COVID-19 as endemic, meaning that it will circulate as a seasonal infection every year and thus the vaccine will be beneficial in the long run.

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Long-term thinking is also important in calculating the cost-benefit analysis as well, he said.

“I care about my child’s health over the long term, not just the brief window when side effects may occur,” Jha wrote. “The benefits of vaccination, even if there is some waning, will last years. Beyond 6 months after vaccination, the risk of side-effects from a COVID vaccine is essentially zero.”

The COVID-19 vaccines developed for young children have been studied extensively by vaccine providers, much more than any vaccine for other diseases that are available, according to Jha. The FDA said in their announcement that the vaccine was 90.7% effective for children aged 5 to 11 and no serious side effects were detected among the 3,100 children who received the vaccine in the trial phase.

Jha did not, however, dismiss parents and caretakers who may be worried about vaccinating their younger children. Myocarditis, also known as inflammation of the heart muscle, has become a concern, especially for children who will be receiving their vaccines. The FDA said Sunday they would evaluate the Moderna vaccine for myocarditis side effects before administering it to the younger age group.

But myocarditis from the COVID-19 vaccine remains very scarce, and in the rare instances that it did occur, the teenagers recovered in approximately a week to two weeks, Jha wrote. 

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Jha urged the CDC to authorize the vaccine for all young children aged 5 to 11, and for parents and caretakers to help their children get their vaccines when they get the chance to do so. 

“[Parents] want to do the right thing, in frighteningly unfamiliar circumstances … We need COVID vaccinations for all children five to eleven years old so parents can get their children vaccinated and keep them safe,” he wrote. “That’s what I’m going to do.” 

Read his full Time piece here.

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