As children and adolescents return to in-person learning and social activities, making sure they stay healthy and safe is a top priority. Ensuring that young people are vaccinated is one of the best ways to protect them and others.
While fewer children and teens have been diagnosed with COVID-19 than adults, they can still acquire the virus and spread it to others. In New Jersey, 10 percent of confirmed COVID-19 cases have been among 5- to 17-year-olds, which represents more than 91,000 children in the state.1
Some children and teens who have tested positive for COVID-19 have been affected by multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C). MIS-C is a rare but serious condition associated with COVID-19 in which different body parts become inflamed, including the heart, lungs, kidneys, brain, skin, eyes or gastrointestinal organs. In New Jersey, 130 children ages 1 to 17 have been diagnosed with this syndrome. All of these children required hospitalization, and many required care in a pediatric intensive care unit.2
Fortunately, children 12 and older can be protected from the virus through vaccination. The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine has been approved for this population.3
The Vital Role of Physicians
As with any vaccine, the New Jersey Department of Health expects that parents will be asking physicians their advice about getting their children vaccinated. Physicians can serve as a critical resource in assuring their patients about the safety and efficacy of the vaccine.
Getting children vaccinated allows them to return safely to schools, sports and other activities they missed out on during the pandemic. It is important that the vaccination rate in the 12 – 17 age group is strong, as children in this age group are mixing with those under age 12 at school and in recreational activities.
Certainly, parents may have questions about the testing and development of the vaccine. Physicians can assure parents that the vaccines met the Food and Drug Administration’s rigorous scientific requirements for safety and effectiveness. All vaccines have gone through the same steps to demonstrate their efficacy and safety. Many steps occurred at the same time; no step was skipped. Collaboration between medical experts and researchers, along with plentiful funding, helped bring vaccines to the public sooner than what is usually expected.4
Tracking Health Complications from COVID-19 Vaccine
Parents should know that the CDC and the Food and Drug Administration continue to collect and examine information on any possible health problems that may be related to the vaccine. The Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) helps to detect unusual or unexpected reporting patterns of adverse events for vaccines. VAERS accepts reports from anyone and collects information about the vaccine, the person vaccinated and the adverse event.5
In addition to VAERS, there is a smartphone-based tool called V-safe that uses text messaging and web surveys to provide personalized health check-ins after an individual receives a COVID-19 vaccine. Through V-safe, you can quickly tell CDC if you have any side effects after getting a COVID-19 vaccine. Parents and guardians can enroll adolescents (ages 12 and older) in V-safe and complete health check-ins on their behalf after COVID-19 vaccination. All adolescents in the family who are eligible to be vaccinated can be enrolled in V-safe. Parents and guardians should use their smartphone to complete a separate V-safe registration for each adolescent. All V-safe communications will be sent to the parent or guardian’s smartphone.6
“CDC found that the known and potential benefits of COVID-19 vaccination outweigh the known and potential risks.”
Ongoing safety monitoring allows the federal government to quickly identify and investigate any health complications related to the virus. Through this analysis, the CDC identified reports of myocarditis and pericarditis— inflammation of the heart—in adolescents and young adults after COVID-19 vaccination. Since April 2021, there have been more than one thousand reports to VAERS of cases of myocarditis and pericarditis occurring after mRNA COVID-19 vaccination (i.e., Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna) in the United States.
These reports after mRNA COVID-19 vaccination are rare, given the hundreds of millions of vaccine doses administered. CDC found that the known and potential benefits of COVID-19 vaccination outweigh the known and potential risks, including the possible risk of myocarditis or pericarditis. Also, most patients with myocarditis and pericarditis who received care responded well to treatment and rest and quickly felt better. The agency continues to recommend COVID-19 vaccination for anyone 12 years of age and older.7
Keeping up on Routine Immunizations
Routine immunization is vital to our efforts to reduce the spread of infectious diseases in our state. Among children born 1994 to 2018, vaccination will prevent an estimated 419 million illnesses, 26.8 million hospitalizations and 936,000 deaths over their lifetimes.8
Unfortunately, during the pandemic—due to child well-visits being delayed—New Jersey saw a drop in immunization rates for young children of about 9 percent compared to 2019.9 As children return to school and other extracurricular activities, parents should make sure their children are up to date on all childhood recommended vaccines. Keep in mind that children can get a COVID-19 vaccine and other vaccines at the same visit.3
Recommend the Vaccine
New Jersey is among the most vaccinated states in the nation.10 However, with virulent COVID-19 variants circulating in the state, the Department wants even more people vaccinated. As physicians, you are a powerful partner in this effort. A strong recommendation from a healthcare provider is the strongest predictor of compliance for vaccination.11
The New Jersey Department of Health is asking physicians in New Jersey to consider becoming a COVID-19 vaccine provider. To learn more about becoming a vaccine provider, visit NJIIS.NJ.gov.
Whether you become a vaccine provider or not, the Department is asking all physicians to ask their patients if they have been vaccinated and if their children have been vaccinated. If they haven’t yet been vaccinated, please provide information on where to get vaccinated. A list of vaccination locations can be found on the COVID-19 hub website at covid.nj.gov/finder.
If your patients are hesitant to get vaccinated or to get their children vaccinated, please share with them the facts about the vaccine. (See COVID-19 Information Resources.)
COVID-19 Vaccine Information Resources
Pediatric Healthcare Professionals COVID-19 Vaccination Toolkit is available from the CDC at www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/toolkits/pediatrician.html.
How to Talk to Your Patients about COVID Vaccination is available from the CDC at www.cdc.gov/vaccines/covid-19/hcp/engaging-patients.html.
This virus has been unrelenting. Now is the time to build greater community protection by getting more residents vaccinated, particularly among the youth who are returning to in-person school.
Please join the Department in our effort to increase vaccination rates in the state.