Alaska families, doctors discuss COVID vaccines for kids, potential side effects

Doctors say benefit of vaccines outweigh risks; some families want more information.
A panel of the Food and Drug Administration’s outside vaccine advisers voted on Tuesday to back...
A panel of the Food and Drug Administration’s outside vaccine advisers voted on Tuesday to back Pfizer’s request to roll out COVID-19 vaccines for children as young as 5 years old.(Live 5 News)
Published: Oct. 29, 2021 at 6:20 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Friday’s announcement from the Food and Drug Administration authorizing emergency use of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in children between the ages of 5 and 11 clears the next hurdle for the vaccine to be administered to children under 12.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices meets next week for the final decision in whether the shots can be given soon.

As the state of Alaska prepares to roll out vaccination opportunities for those children, Alaska families are mixed in their reaction to the news.

“My grandkids, as soon as they can get them, they’re going to get them,” said Dorothy Lazar. “The whole family’s on board, there’s no dissenters on this. The world did something faster than it did in the past, but that’s because the whole scientific community came together and it’s good. It’s a good thing.”

Her friend Eileen Foyle-Saft, a retired teacher, says the development has her contemplating getting back into the classroom as a substitute.

“Once you retire, you find you miss it, and I was tempted for so long to want to sub, but I’ve waited until we got the vaccine for the youngers, and I feel like it’s going to be much, much better for everyone around,” Foyle-Saft said.

Other families range from uninterested in getting their children vaccinated against COVID-19 to looking to do more research on its safety.

“I don’t think it’s necessary,” said Daniel Miller, a dad who told Alaska’s News Source his son had to be tested for COVID-19 to be able to go back to school after coming down with a cough. “I think it’s not harmful, I just don’t think it’s necessary.”

A Kaiser Family Foundation poll found that in September, about one in four parents polled across the country said they are definitely not going to get their child between 5 and 11 vaccinated. Another 7% said they’d only do it if necessary. More than a third said they’d do so right away, with just under a third were in the middle, saying they’d “wait and see.”

“I think we’re pretty close, but maybe not quite yet,” said Kaye Pope, playing with her children and husband at a Midtown playground. “I just want to do a little bit more research on our own, see what everything says.”

Her husband, Tim Pope, says the newness of the vaccine has him hoping for more data.

“I think it’s still really new and I would prefer more research to be done and maybe just kind of see some more statistics before I’d feel more comfortable with it,” he said.

The Popes are in line with more than half of the parents who participated in a national poll. The Ipsos poll found that more than half of the parents of unvaccinated children surveyed were worried about how quickly the vaccines were developed. It found that 57% of parents of unvaccinated 12-18-year-olds, and 63% of of the parents of 5-11-year-olds are concerned about potential side effects.

One of the most often discussed side effects from the vaccine is myocarditis, a type of heart inflammation that can also occur after viral infections.

Among the 2,200 participants in Pfizer’s trial, none experienced myocarditis, pericarditis or anaphylaxis after the vaccine, and no participants died, according to the executive summary shared with the FDA’s panel. Myocarditis has been observed more commonly in adolescent boys and young men after the second dose of the vaccine. A CDC study of the condition in adults after vaccination found that after a second vaccine, there was an occurrence of 22-27 cases of myocarditis per one million second shots for men 18 to 29. The incidence for other groups drops to 5-6 cases per million in men aged 30-49, 3-4 cases per million in women age 18-20 and between two and less than one incidence per million in other adult age groups.

The same study estimated impacts of COVID-19 vaccination in men 18-29 to be 9,600 prevented positive cases, 300 prevented hospitalizations, 60 prevented ICU admissions and three fewer deaths per million second vaccine doses. Another report found the risk for the condition among males age 12-29 to be 39-47 cases of myocarditis, pericarditis and myopericarditis per million second doses.

Members of the state health team addressed the risk Thursday during a media call. Dr. Lisa Rabinowitz said the studies modeled a lot of risks to different age categories.

“Really looking at all of the modeling, there was definitely a benefit to vaccination and in terms of long-term risk, there’s no anticipated long-term risk,” Rabinowitz said. “There are some rare side effects that we do know about, specifically pericarditis and myocarditis, most pronounced in males in that older teenage group. Even looking at that age group, the vaccines are still a significant benefit, especially when case rates are really high,” she said.

A study of myocarditis in COVID-19 patients found that people of all ages were more at risk of myocarditis with diagnosed COVID-19 than without it. Among hospitalized patients, COVID-19 patients were 16 times more likely to have myocarditis than those without COVID-19, the study found.

One local pediatrician says none of the doctors at his large Anchorage and Eagle River practice have had patients report heart issues after vaccination. Dr. Jeff Brand with LaTouche Pediatrics said he’s heard of one local patient that had chest pain and high troponin — a cardiac enzyme — which led to a chest scan that later returned normal.

“The cardiologist I talked to thinks that obviously getting COVID is going to be more of a risk than just the vaccine, and certainly influenza, coxsackievirus, which is the commonest cause of myocarditis, is worse,” Brand said.

Coxsackieviruses can cause illnesses like hand, foot and mouth disease, pink eye, and can lead to more serious issues like viral meningitis and encephalitis, in addition to myocarditis.

“There’s some legitimate hesitancy,” Brand said, speaking of parents who are unsure whether kids need to be vaccinated against COVID-19. “They’re not very sick usually, they don’t usually end up in the hospital.”

That aside, he said, there are still risks for children who get COVID-19.

“There have been 584 deaths from COVID in kids under 18,” Brand said. “Influenza annually kills between 17 and 200 kids. The only disease that probably kills more children as an infectious disease is RSV.”

Outside of the direct risk of COVID-19, Brand says Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children, or MIS-C, is a dangerous risk that can appear weeks after an often uneventful COVID-19 infection.

“You may not even be very sick with COVID,” Brand said. “In fact, the first one I know about, the family had COVID, the baby had it, but wasn’t sick at all, but developed the MIS-C.”

He said his office has had three or four children hospitalized with the condition. Most are in the ICU for two or three days.

Through July 2021, 12 Alaska children had been confirmed to have MIS-C. All were hospitalized for the condition, with seven admitted to the intensive care unit.

“People harp on hospitalizations, harp on deaths, (say kids are) not very ill, but there is a secondary thing,” Brand said, “and if you end up with more and more (COVID-19) cases in children, you could end up with more and more MIS-C because we can’t prevent it that we know of.”

The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services says it will have enough doses to vaccinate 55% of the eligible Alaska children in the age range of 5-11, before national chain pharmacies receive their allocation from the federal government.

The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices meets Nov. 2 and 3.

Editor’s note: Lauren Maxwell and Kim Daehnke contributed to this story.

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