CHILDREN and COVID-19 Vaccines
Children, in general, seem to have much less severe cases of
COVID-19 (data as of April 2022). If children have relatively harmless cases of COVID-19 and recover
with no consequences, the argument arises of why should children be vaccinated?
Why not simply let them catch COVID-19, get sick, and recover, much like their
parents or grandparents did with measles, mumps, and chickenpox before vaccines
were available for those diseases?
This is not a new argument. Here are some facts why it is not
a legitimate one…
- Sick children can infect parents and grandparents
who are at a much higher risk. It has been shown that children are better at
spreading the virus.
- Before the chicken pox vaccine was introduced,
children were less likely to be hospitalized than adults. Most recovered with no complications, but
some did not. As a matter of fact, there were more than 1500 hospitalizations
every year for chicken pox-related complications prior to the introduction of
the chickenpox vaccine. With the vaccination, hospitalization rates for
chickenpox declined by 90 percent in one to four-year old children!
- Some people compare COVID-19 to the flu and argue
that more children die of the flu than the pandemic. But this is just not true.
What is true is that the mortality rate in children of both the flu and
COVID-19 is low, but the lives of more than 1200 young children have been lost
in the US from COVID-19 compared to six deaths from the flu. 1200 young
children losing their lives to a disease that can be avoided or eased with a
vaccine cannot be easily dismissed.
- It is true that serious complications from
COVID-19 can happen in children. Some will need to be hospitalized, some will
need to be put on ventilators, and some will die. Fortunately, the actual
percentage of children that will be seriously harmed or die is very small.
- Some parents feel the low-risk percentage is not
significant enough and prefer to wait and take their chances. While the risk is
indeed low, much like chickenpox, vaccination can make that risk even lower.
- We are still in the pandemic, even though (at this
time) the case numbers have been going down significantly in the US. However, the
latest variant was very transmittable and the rest of the world, especially
poor countries, are still working to control the disease. It is possible that
new variants could become a reality. COVID-19 is not over yet and may possibly be
with us in some form or another for a long time. This could lead to a lot of
very sick children if they are not protected by a vaccine.
WHY DO CHILDREN FARE BETTER THAN ADULTS WITH COVID-19?
The answer to the above question lies in an understanding of
our Innate and Adaptive Immune Systems, as well as the
presence of Cytokines.
THE INNATE IMMUNE SYSTEM
Our immune systems have 2 lines of defense against disease.
The initial response to an infection triggers the innate immune system.
The innate immune response includes mucus in the nose and throat (that helps
trap harmful microbes) and proteins and cells that help the body to mount an
Children’s immune systems have higher levels of some innate
molecules and higher levels of innate responses to infections when compared
with adults. Therefore, the innate immune systems seem to be more effective in
children than in adults when dealing with COVID-19.
THE ADAPTIVE IMMUNE SYSTEM
The other part of the immune system is the adaptive immune
system which develops more slowly and mounts a more specific defense. Adaptive
immunity includes T and B cells that take longer to respond but retain memory
of past invaders.
The strong innate response that
children have makes them less reliant on the adaptive immune system because
they have had less exposure to other coronaviruses. Actually,
when children encounter the SARS-CoV-2 virus their innate immune system
immediately mobilizes and attacks the essential parts of the virus.
immune systems (memory T and B cells) of older persons targets parts of the
SARS-CoV-2 virus they have encountered in other coronaviruses and those parts
don’t seem to be as important to stopping infection.
Cytokines are small proteins
produced by certain cells in the body that serve as molecular messengers
between cells. Cytokines that are part of the immune system regulate the body’s
response to disease and infection. When they are released, they signal the
immune system to do its job. Researchers found that two cytokines were
important to the innate immune response and were more prevalent in the blood of
younger people compared with older people.
IF CHILDREN HAVE RESISTANCE
SHOULD THEY STILL GET VACCINATED?
At this point in time (April 2022), more than ¾ of eligible adults
but only 40% of eligible children are fully vaccinated. Some parents question
possible side effects of the vaccine and decide to wait for more data. As noted
above others consider the risks to their children to be very low and opt out of
vaccines. Some even believe that all this COVID-19 talk is simply
Nonetheless, the answer to whether
or not children should be vaccinated is a resounding yes! Here are some
- Researchers have
found no evidence that COVID-19 vaccines pose any serious safety concerns.
Trials conducted by the CDC with thousands of children found the most common
side effects of the vaccine were mild and didn’t have any lasting impact.
- Recent research
suggests that children’s risk of getting infected with COVID-19 is similar to
that of adults.
- Children appear
better at spreading the virus than early studies suggested.
- Some children do
require hospitalization when infected.
- Some children have
symptoms long after they have cleared the virus.
- A child’s innate
immune system is not 100% protective. There is also a risk for children for
multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MIS-C), a rare condition that can occur in
children several weeks after a COVID-19 infection and can lead to organ damage
or even death.
- For children under
age 5, a vaccine is not yet available. Approval of Pfizer’s vaccine for children
under 5 was delayed because the initial 2-dose series wasn’t working well
against the Omicron variant during testing. Research and testing is continuing
and an effective vaccine should become available for children under 5 in the
Thus, even though children have stronger immune protection
against COVID-19 than the rest of the population, vaccines are important to
protect vulnerable children and to control the spread of infections. The
benefits have been shown to far outweigh any possible risks.
Please note: Some of the scientific information found in this article has been presented with permission from the McGill University Office for Science and Society.
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