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How should parents talk to their kids about getting vaccinated against COVID-19?

FDA expected to authorize shots for children as young as 5

Utah Air National Guard medic Stephanie Young gives Max Lind, 12, a COVID-19 vaccine at Equestrian Park in Highland, Utah.
Utah Air National Guard medic Stephanie Young gives Max Lind, 12, a COVID-19 vaccine during a Utah County Health clinic at Equestrian Park in Highland on Thursday, Aug. 5, 2021.
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

With the U.S. Food and Drug Administration expected Friday to authorize COVID-19 shots for children as young as 5 years old, it’s not too soon for parents to be thinking about how they’ll talk about the vaccinations with their children.

Final federal approval to begin vaccinating children 5 to 11 years old with the Pfizer vaccine could come by the middle of next week from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Utah Department of Health preordered 109,000 pediatric doses of the vaccine that should begin arriving in the state Friday.

According to a new Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics poll about half of Utahns with children under 18 years old have either gotten them vaccinated against the deadly virus or are ready to get them the shots as soon as they’re eligible. The vaccine is currently available to anyone 12 and older.

What should parents be telling their children about getting vaccinated?

Older children are likely already hearing about COVID-19 vaccinations from their friends as well as the adults in their lives and have questions for their parents, Dr. Neal Davis, medical director of pediatric community-based care for Intermountain Healthcare, told the Deseret News.

Younger children, though, are a different story.

“We really need to start with the developmental age of a child,” Davis said. “I’m not sure that applies as much to the 5- and 6-year-olds. They are not particularly excited about any poke they get for any reason, as you might imagine, so the conversation is quite different.”

The Murray-based pediatrician said parents sitting down to explain the shots to a young child need to understand that for them, “it’s more about, this is something that we do, like we do with other vaccines, to help our bodies to be strong and fight off bad germs.”

With children who are well aware of the pandemic, especially teenagers, Davis said the conversation parents need to have about getting vaccinated against the virus “really starts with asking what they understand about it and listening.”

What’s key with older children is making them feel respected and ensuring they get good information, he said.

Dr. Andrew Pavia, chief of the division of pediatric infectious diseases at University of Utah Health and director of hospital epidemiology at Intermountain Primary Children’s Hospital in Salt Lake City, said there is a group of parents who are anxiously awaiting approval of the vaccine for younger children.

“There are those who can’t wait to get their children vaccinated. Their main question is, ‘When can my child get vaccinated,’” Pavia told reporters during a recent virtual news conference. Other parents have questions about the vaccine’s safety and effectiveness.

Parents can be reassured, he said, that the smaller dose of the vaccine recommended for all children under 12 years old “appears to be very effective, at least over the short term. We don’t know how long it will last. It appears to be from what we know so far at least as safe as it is in older children and adults.”

The most important benefit of vaccinating children is the protection they’ll have from the virus, Pavia said, In Utah, two young people under 18 years old have died from COVID-19, and nearly 600 children 14 and younger have been hospitalized with the virus.

“The next most important thing is the benefits for families by having children protected because what we worry about a lot is transmitting to that mother with cancer, that grandparent on an immunosuppressive,” he said, referring to medical conditions that make someone more vulnerable to COVID-19.

“We know kids 5 to 11 play an important role in the transmission of the virus. We also know they tend to have mild and often asymptomatic infections, which means they can be pretty effective transmitters,” Pavia said, since without feeling sick, they won’t know they’re spreading it.

That means if “a substantial portion” of children in that age group are vaccinated against COVID-19, “it will help us get the pandemic under control,” he said, describing that as “a big benefit to children, as well as a benefit to the family, as well as a benefit to the community.”