There are two major pieces of news this week pertaining to COVID-19. The FDA granted authorization for the Pfizer vaccine to be used in children aged 12-15 (it was already authorized for 16 and older) and the CDC has relaxed their recommendations to indicate that those who are fully vaccinated (>2 weeks after the last dose of vaccine) do not need to continue to wear masks in public. I’d like to share some information related to each of these changes.
Everyone is well aware at this point that children are not nearly as likely to get severely ill from COVID-19 as adults, so I think it is helpful to discuss the risks and benefits of younger age groups being vaccinated. Pfizer’s vaccine was formally studied in over 1000 kids 12-15 years old. No child in the vaccinated group got COVID-19 during the study, whereas 16 children in the placebo group did. Side effects were similar to what we see in young adults (fatigue, arm pain, body aches and other minor symptoms are common, especially after the second dose).
When most kids don’t have severe illness with COVID-19 and the number of COVID cases has decreased, preventing children from getting COVID may not seem like a big deal. However, it is important to compare the risk of side effects from the vaccine to the risk of side effects from COVID itself. To date 143 children under 4 years old and another 356 children between age 5 and 17 have died of COVID-19 in the United States according to the CDC (https://covid.cdc.gov/covid-data-tracker/#demographics). So that is roughly 1 out of every 10,000 children who are known to have had COVID that have died. The true figure is likely lower than that since kids are less likely to get tested when they have mild COVID-19, but that is still dramatically more likely than any kind of serious side effect of the vaccine (let alone death). Even severe allergic reactions have only happened in about 5 out of every million people vaccinated. And allergic reactions are treatable! More information about the safety of the COVID vaccines is available here: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/safety/adverse-events.html.
So ultimately, it is pretty clear that the risk of severe illness from COVID itself is much more likely than the risk of severe illness from vaccination and I would recommend vaccination as the best option for children 12-15. We’ll get information on younger age groups throughout the summer and fall.
The second major bit of news is that the CDC has enough information about the low likelihood of vaccinated individuals getting ill or transmitting COVID to others that they no longer recommend masking for fully vaccinated individuals. This recommendation doesn’t apply to healthcare settings and I would add the caveat that immune suppressed individuals may want to continue to be extra careful since there is some evidence that vaccination isn’t as effective in this group. Otherwise, it is totally reasonable for someone who is fully vaccinated to go about their life without a mask.
What this change in recommendations should not indicate is that anyone who hasn’t been vaccinated should drop their guard. We continue to see several cases each week in Wright County and we transferred two unvaccinated patients to intensive care units just last week due to severe COVID-19.
I anticipate that this will be the last COVID-19 update that I write. It’s been a tough last year for everyone and there’s a lot to be learned from this experience we’ve all been through together. I personally most hope that we take away an awareness of how our actions affect others, a commitment to looking for the truth rather than just what we’d like to believe, and the ability to have respectful conversations even when we disagree.
I’ll end by saying this: please get vaccinated, it’s simply the safest option.