Commentary: Six reasons to vaccinate teens against COVID-19

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Elation. Relief. Hope. I felt all of these things as I watched the COVID-19 vaccine enter my 14-year-old daughter’s arm.

As a parent and a pediatrician, I am thrilled that adolescents aged 12 to 15 are now eligible for the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. Getting teens vaccinated keeps them healthy and protects vulnerable members of our community. I’ve reviewed the available data on the vaccine and feel confident in giving it to my children and my patients.  The vaccine has a lot of benefits, but here are the top ones from my perspective:

No. 1: It keeps kids safe from serious illness. While the coronavirus causes mild symptoms in most adolescents, deaths and long-term health damage do occur, though rarely. There are no fool-proof treatments for COVID-19. Kids who develop MIS-C complications are at risk for lifelong lung and blood vessel damage. New data on long-COVID in adolescents is emerging. While many kids end up being just fine, when your own child is affected or loses the chance for a normal life the statistics don’t matter.

No. 2: It reduces transmission. Vaccinated people are much less likely to spread the virus. Getting vaccinated is a public service because it keeps vulnerable individuals from getting sick — everyone from infants, to cancer patients, to people taking immunosuppressant drugs.

No. 3: It protects athletic endeavors. Because COVID-19 can increase the risk of heart inflammation and blood clots, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that kids who have a moderate to severe infection be screened by a doctor before restarting athletics. Many adolescents rely on sports for their social and mental health. Vaccination protects their bodies so they can stay active now and in the future.

No. 4: It allows a return to healthy activities. From age 12 to 18, kids are making social connections and working on the communication skills they will use for the rest of their life. Vaccinated kids can safely get back to engaging in the groups and events that are so important for their social development.

No. 5: It reduces stress. Many kids worry about getting sick or making a loved one sick. Vaccination relieves that anxiety and allows them to comfortably participate in school, sports and other extracurricular activities.

No. 6: It mitigates teenage risk-taking. Teenagers’ brains are at a developmental stage where they are willing to take risks. Adolescents in my practice have gotten sick after breaking their parents’ pandemic precautions. Vaccination allows parents to feel confident that their family is well protected.

When I got the shot in December, I was happy to be among the first. At the same time, I would have wanted more data and results before considering it for young people. Now, six months later, we’ve watched millions of adults safely receive the vaccine and additional data has been collected. We have the scientific and real world results to say that the benefits are overwhelming. The risks the disease poses are significantly greater than the risk of the vaccine, which is why I trust the shot for my children and my patients.

I understand that it may feel like a big decision to get adolescents vaccinated. Maintaining the status quo often feels safer because nothing is changing. However, inaction isn’t benign, particularly when it comes to vaccines. I’ve seen kids sickened by vaccine-preventable illnesses. Almost universally, the parents have been overwhelmed with regret.

I encourage parents or guardians who are hesitant about the shot to talk to their pediatrician. Your child’s doctor can answer questions and discuss concerns so you can make an informed decision.

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Dr. Devon Ebbing, MD, is a pediatrician at Vancouver Clinic. She enjoys working with patients and their families to develop the right care plans for their unique needs.

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