More San Francisco kids are about to get their turn for the COVID-19 vaccine.
On Tuesday, an advisory committee for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention voted to unanimously recommend vaccinating children between ages five to 11 against COVID-19, one of the last hurdles to inoculating kids. Last Friday, the Food and Drug Administration authorized vaccines for the same age group.
The vaccine is fully approved for people 16 and older, and it’s authorized for emergency use for children 12- to 15- years-old. More than 90% of eligible students in SFUSD are vaccinated, according to San Francisco’s vaccine data dashboard.
Children as young as five years old could begin to receive vaccines in San Francisco as early as this week, pending state and local health approval. Dates and times for upcoming school-based vaccine clinics can be found here.
Kids already ask a lot of questions. So it’s no surprise that they would have some queries about a vaccine and the virus that kept them away from school for nearly a year.
On Tuesday, 4th and 5th graders at Malcolm X Academy Elementary in Bayview-Hunters Point had a chance to get their questions answered directly by UCSF pediatrician Dr. Daniel Woolridge, SFUSD Superintendent Vincent Matthews and School Board President Gabriela López.
“We understand a lot of anxiety can come with getting shots. But there’s a lot of courage and bravery we’ve seen during this pandemic, too, and youth have led that,” said Woolridge.
The UCSF pediatrician shared with students how vaccines have been used by communities for ages, including among West African tribes that used some of the earliest forms of vaccines to protect against diseases such as smallpox.
“They would take the pus from an infected person and put a tiny bit into an open wound on the arm of an uninfected person,” Woolridge explained to the students.
Wide-eyed and curious, students asked about everything how the vaccine works to how they might feel after their shot. After a brief lesson in mRNA technology, the pediatrician explained to students that they might feel a little sick after their shot but that some people, including children, felt fine afterward.
“We have been prolonging deciding when this would be safe for kids so we can do more testing and know it is safe,” Woolridge said. “It is common the day of the vaccine to feel tired or maybe like you have a fever. That’s your immune system eating up the virus.”
Pfizer’s COVID vaccine shot, the only one approved for the five to 11 age group, will be administered at one-third of the dosage for teens and adults.
One student named Jahmal asked, “If I don’t get the vaccine, can I go to school?”
That one was a little trickier. Last month, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced the country’s first COVID-19 vaccine mandate for students across California, adding to a list of nearly 10 vaccines that students are already required to attend public school. So far, however, a date has not been set on when the latest vaccine would be required.
At this point, students will be able to continue going to school if they are not vaccinated, but they will be more likely to get infected and would have to quarantine if someone in school gets sick.
San Francisco has largely avoided the anti-vaccine mandate protests that have erupted in other parts of the state, including Sacramento. Masks will also be required in schools for the remainder of the school year, Matthews said.
“We are trying to do whatever we can to keep schools as safe as possible,” said López. “I have been vaccinated and I’m excited for you to get yours, too.”
Studies have found a similar level of protection against COVID-19 among vaccinated children compared with vaccinated adults.
Kids ages 5 to 11 who tested positive for COVID-19 had on average longer hospital stay times than children hospitalized with the seasonal flu, CDC official Dr. Jefferson Jones said on Tuesday. Compared with the flu, young children with COVID-19 were also more likely to be admitted to the ICU.
The primary risk that some medical professionals have shared with the vaccine in children is whether it could cause heart inflammation, known as myocarditis, which has occurred in some vaccinated adults.
But among the 3,100 elementary-age children in clinical vaccine trials, no cases of myocarditis were reported.
“All the vaccine side effects are the same things you would get with the virus itself but it would be amplified to make you sicker or die even,” said Woolridge. “We compared cases of myocarditis with kids who did and those who didn’t get the vaccine and the myocarditis is much more severe with coronavirus.”