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MUSC pediatrician: ‘Parents who are worried about the vaccine should be worried about COVID’

Published: Nov. 3, 2021 at 1:01 PM EDT|Updated: Nov. 3, 2021 at 2:35 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - A pediatric medicine expert from MUSC stressed the COVID-19 vaccine’s safety, even in young children.

Dr. Allison Eckard, MUSC’s division director for pediatric infectious diseases, said she is much more concerned about the longterm effects of having COVID than about “theoretical risks” of an mRNA vaccine.

“It degrades very rapidly once it enters the body. It does not interact with anybody’s DNA,” she said. “You cannot get COVID from the vaccine you cannot give COVID to anyone else. And as soon as I have a minute to spare from my busy schedule, I will get my children vaccinated.”

She called COVID different from everything doctors have ever seen.

“It is not the common cold it is even worse than influenza. And so parents who are worried about the vaccine should be worried about COVID,” she said.

Speaking Wednesday afternoon during a briefing about the vaccine, she said the main reason people are hesitant to get the vaccine is that they think the process was rushed or because they think we are still learning about the vaccine.

While she acknowledged that it takes decades to learn fully about any infection or vaccine, she insisted this particular type of vaccine has been in development for decades and “no steps were skipped in the approval process except the red tape and the bureaucracy.”

“So we have followed the data very closely and we feel good about the data,” Eckard said. “It is highly effective in preventing COVID in children and in adults, but it’s safe to and what we always balance in medicine is the risks and the benefits of everything.”

She also addressed parents’ concerns about myocarditis, a side effect reported in rare cases from the vaccine and from a COVID-19 infection.

“One thing that we hear a lot about is this risk of post-vaccine myocarditis, and while that risk is real, it is minuscule on the percentage of about .00001% risk,” she said. “But what we do see much more frequently is myocarditis after COVID or associated with COVID and particularly with Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children, which is much more common than the post-vaccine myocarditis that people talk about. So just like everything in medicine, we balanced the risks and benefits and we feel strongly that the benefits of getting vaccinated even in this younger age group, far outweigh any very small risk of a serious side effect.”

MUSC Child Life Manager Betsy McMillan urged parents to talk to their children about the vaccine but said it should be presented as a positive thing.

“One thing that parents can talk to children about is that they are going to have this great opportunity just like Mom and Dad did, or maybe an older brother or sister or other family members, and how we wore masks for so long to be safe and now this vaccine is just the next step so we won’t have to wear masks and still feel safe and keep others safe as well,” she said.

The childhood dose of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine will be one-third the dose approved for teens and adults. Like the adult version, the vaccine is a two-dose shot. The childhood version’s second dose should be given three weeks after the first.

Spokesperson Carter Coyle said MUSC would be working with Charleston County School District beginning the week of Nov. 15 to administer the vaccine to eligible age groups. MUSC has ordered 3,900 doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 pediatric doses.

Eckard said some of the long-term effects people fear from the vaccine are based on misinformation and have no “pathophysiological reason that those [effects] would be associated with the vaccine.”

“So you have to be very careful with where you get your information and we really encourage you to reach out to your pediatrician or healthcare provider that you have a good relationship with who can discuss the risks and benefits for your individual child,” she said.

She also refuted claims she has heard used to justify not getting a child vaccinated.

“You know I looked up some data recently about car accidents and car deaths in children because I’ve heard is more likely to die in a car accident than it is to die of COVID that is absolutely not true,” she said. “It is more likely for children to die of COVID than it is to die in a car crash and the majority of children who died in a car crash were unrestrained. And so I think of that similarly to the vaccine is that is our prevention. That is our way of keeping kids out of the hospital and having severe illness the same way that we would not put our child in the car without properly restraining them.”

U.S. health officials on Tuesday gave the final signoff to the Pfizer vaccine, a milestone that opens a major expansion of the nation’s vaccination campaign to children as young as 5.

CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky came only hours after an advisory panel unanimously decided Pfizer’s shots should be opened to the 28 million youngsters in that age group.

“As a mom, I encourage parents with questions to talk to their pediatrician, school nurse or local pharmacist to learn more about the vaccine and the importance of getting their children vaccinated,” Walensky said Tuesday night in a statement. “There are children in the second grade who have never experienced a normal school year. Pediatric vaccination has the power to help us change all of that.”

Children who get vaccinated before Thanksgiving will be fully covered by Christmas.

Copyright 2021 WCSC. The Associated Press contributed to this report. All rights reserved.