This article was updated August 27, 2021, to reflect new information from the FDA.
The COVID-19 pandemic has challenged everyone, requiring a spirit of determination and unity. While the challenge affects us all, it may be hardest on those caught between being a child and an adult.
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Teens are in the final years of childhood. Classroom learning, sports, dances, bands and all extracurricular activities play a significant role in their education and social development. Getting back to normal is essential to their development, and vaccines are our best weapon.
Raghunandana Kasetty, MD, a pediatrician with OSF HealthCare, answers some common questions surrounding teens and the COVID-19 vaccines.
1. Do young people need to worry about COVID-19?
There is the false idea that COVID-19 is only a concern for older people.
Although COVID-19 causes more problems in the elderly, teens are not spared. COVID-19 can cause a severe condition called MIS-C (Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome-Children) disease in children and teens. It affects multiple organs of the body, causing organ failure. Recovery requires many days in the ICU.
Plus, if they tested positive for COVID-19, teens would be removed from the sports and their favorite activities until they finish the quarantine.
2. Do studies show the vaccine is effective in teens?
The vaccines are effective and safe. Pfizer received full authorization for its two-dose vaccine in August, 2021, for those age 16 and older. It is the first vaccine to receive full approval by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). It remains available for age 12-15 through emergency use authorization.
The Pfizer vaccine has proven to be 95% effective against COVID-19 infection, though the delta variant has reduced that somewhat because it is more transmissible and contagious. What remains true is that individuals who have been vaccinated are far less likely to have severe illness, hospitalizations and death because of COVID-19.
Two other vaccines, the two-shot Moderna and the one-dose Johnson & Johnson, are available under EAU for those age 18 and older.
3. Do teens have the same side effects from the vaccine?
Research has shown that there are no serious side effects from the COVID-19 vaccines.
The vaccines can cause some local soreness at the injection site. You may fatigue or get a headache for a day or two after getting the vaccine. These minor vaccine reactions are nothing compared to the potentially life-threatening problems that can come from COVID-19.
4. Will getting the vaccine change teens’ lifestyles?
The current pandemic has changed life in so many different ways. Restaurants being partially closed makes it difficult to even have dinner with friends or family. This isolation carries over to online learning, which creates problems for some teens with learning difficulties.
Because of social isolation, many teens have become more depressed, and unfortunately, suicidal ideations and suicides have increased.
The sooner everyone gets the vaccine, the sooner we can find normalcy. The vaccines are the best way to end the COVID-19 pandemic, and in conjunction with other precautions, the vaccines offer the road map back to our pre-pandemic lifestyle.
5. What vaccine should teens get?
Only the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is approved for people age 12 and older. Either the Johnson & Johnson or Moderna vaccine are fine for people 18 and older. Both are extremely effective against severe COVID-19 disease.
6. What if my teen doesn’t want the vaccine?
As parents, we need to look at how our teens are affected by the pandemic and explain how everyone being vaccinated would benefit the entire community. Vaccines also help protect the people around us – especially grandparents and other family members with medical conditions.
Providing the facts to your teen is essential. I encourage you to talk about the vaccine so that you both can be comfortable and confident about your choices.
The vaccines are powerful tools that can help reopen our communities.
7. What about changes in the virus?
Viruses constantly change through mutation, and new variants of a virus are expected to occur over time. Sometimes new variants emerge and disappear. Other times, a new variant will emerge and spread more easily and even become more deadly.
Many of the new variants in the U.S. spread more easily and quickly. Hence, it is important to be vaccinated quickly to have the best chance of limiting mutations.
It’s important to seek out trusted sources for information, like the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Stay connected to OSF HealthCare for continued updates when it may be your opportunity to get vaccinated.