Wellstar Health System opened two pediatric COVID-19 vaccination centers recently, at their health parks in Acworth and East Cobb.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration authorized the use of the Pfizer-BioNTech version of the vaccine on October 29 for children ages 5 to 11. President Joe Biden then issued a statement encouraging parents to get their children vaccinated.
The Courier interviewed Dr. Hebah Pranckun about the vaccination of children of 5 to 11 years old against the COVID-19 coronavirus.
Dr. Pranckun, describe your role at Wellstar Health Systems.
“I’m a pediatrician at Wellstar Avalon in Alpharetta, and I also serve as the editor-in-chief of our pediatric newsletter. It’s our inaugural year and we’ve actually had three issues sent out,” she said.
Could you talk a bit about the safety of the vaccine for children?
“We know this vaccine is completely safe and effective,” Dr. Pranckun said. “Even though the vaccine was put out a little bit quicker than a vaccine timeline, it still had to go through the same rigorous process that every other vaccine goes through for safety and efficacy, including clinical trials.”
“It doesn’t stop there,” she said. “The observation continues even after we give the vaccine to children.”
“So the difference is the amount of data,” said Dr. Pranckun.
“A lot of patients will ask what’s the difference between an EUA [Emergency Use Authorization] and full approval because we know right now that the CDC has given EUA for 5 to 11-year-olds,” she said. “Basically that means it has been thoroughly reviewed, they have deemed it safe and efficacious, and of benefit to the general population.”
“The difference is once full approval comes, that means even more data has shown that same thing,” said Dr. Pranckun.
Are there any known side effects that any of the children exhibited in the testing that’s been done so far?
“Yes,” she said. “And those side effects were the same side effects that we saw with teenagers and adults … with other vaccines.”
“Things like fatigue or headache, fever, and mainly soreness at the injection site,” she said. “Those were the main side effects that they saw.”
A question asked frequently on social media is: ‘with the number of cases of COVID infection among children being low relative to the population, and the effects being, on average, less severe, why is it important that children be vaccinated?
“We know this is not an extremely common problem for children, but they’re not immune,” said Dr. Pranckun. “And that’s why it’s important that they still get vaccinated because we’ve still seen about just over 700 deaths in children.”
“And that’s really just too many,” she said.
“In addition, there’s still a lot we don’t know about this virus,” she said. “So while most children do recover appropriately, we’re still learning a lot about the long-term side effects, and immunization is the best way we know to protect the kid.”
“So I think the biggest thing for families in the community to take away is … they’re still vulnerable, and they’re not immune,” said Dr. Pranckun.
What other general things would you recommend to parents?
“Every situation should be analyzed differently,” said Dr. Pranckun.
“First of all, I just want to use the opportunity to reiterate again,” she said, “our best protection is vaccination.”
“Once you move past vaccination, we still advise social distancing, and safety measures,” she said. “Now that we do have the vaccination, and we know more than we did before, we don’t have to be as strict and rigorous as we were at the same time last year.”
“Families should have discussions with the people that they’re around and they’re exposing their children to regarding: are they vaccinated?” she said. “It’s still important to keep gatherings on the smaller side.”
“And when you do invite people over to your home … it is good to hold those gatherings outside (if possible)” she said.
We still know that masking works,” she said. “So it’s really best for families because each situation is a little bit different, to follow the reliable resources that we have, following CDC guidelines, and for the children, the American Academy of Pediatrics.”
“And I always like to encourage my families, my patients, this is a very confusing time, so if they have any question, no question is too small, please give our office a call and say, ‘Hey, these are our plans for the holidays. What do you think and what do you recommend?’.”
Is child vaccination a two-shot or a one-shot process?
“It’s the same as far as timing,” she said. “It’s a two-shot process with 21 days in between.”
“It’s important for parents to know that the dosing is different,” she said. “12 and above receive 30 microgram doses, while those who are five to 11 get 10 micrograms. So it’s about a third of the dose.”
Do you have any closing thoughts you would like to tell parents?
“I think the biggest thing that parents should know is that as pediatricians, we understand they always want to do what’s best for their children,” she said. “And with the internet out there, there’s a lot of misinformation.”
“So it’s very important to us that they be very comfortable asking any and every question to their pediatrician, to their physician,” said Dr. Pranckun. “That’s our job. And that’s what we’re here for.”
“And I think it’s our duty to comfort them in making the right decision. So the biggest statement to the community is to know that we’re here to validate any concerns they have and share with them the appropriate information,” said Dr. Pranckun.