A vial of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)
K-12 Education

County Office of Education answers parents’ questions about vaccine safety, rollout for youth ages 5 to 11

During two town halls this week, medical professionals and school officials took questions from parents and guardians about COVID-19 and the vaccine. On Friday, the Food and Drug Administration OK’d the vaccine for emergency use, which leaves final approval up to the CDC. If the agency clears it, the vaccine could be distributed as early as Wednesday to children ages 5 to 11.

As final approval for the COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use among children ages 5 to 11 nears, Santa Cruz County parents and guardians asked school officials about vaccine safety during two virtual town halls this week.

Santa Cruz County Superintendent of Schools Faris Sabbah said officials expect to administer the first vaccines for children ages 5 to 11 on Nov. 8. During the Tuesday town hall event, which was held in Spanish, Drs. Devon Francis and Cal Gordon — both pediatricians — talked broadly about what is known about the vaccine so far and emphasized its benefits.

On Friday, the federal Food and Drug Administration approved the vaccine for emergency use, which leaves final approval up to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If the agency clears it, the vaccine could be distributed as early as Wednesday.

The vaccine, which is now available for those aged 12 and older, is currently optional for eligible students. However, it could soon become required after Gov. Gavin Newsom announced plans earlier this month to add the COVID-19 vaccine to the list of already required shots to attend in-person schools. The change wouldn’t happen until after the FDA fully approves it.

Community members will be able to access the vaccine for children at a wide range of locations including schools, clinics and public health sites. The County Office of Education plans to have three drive-thru vaccine clinics: at Cabrillo Community College and at the offices of the Pajaro Valley Unified School District and the County Office of Education. In addition, five mobile vaccine vehicles will be visiting elementary schools across the county.

Natural immunity, myocarditis and long-term effects

Francis said the vaccine has many benefits, including reducing a child’s chances of becoming ill from COVID-19 as well as the chances of infecting others who are more vulnerable.

If approved, children 5 to 11 will receive two doses of the vaccine, but one-third of the total dose adults receive, according to Gordon. Generally, children can experience symptoms similar to the flu vaccine such as sore arms, a slight temperature and some drowsiness. He said parents and guardians can give children who have symptoms Tylenol or Advil and make sure they’re drinking a lot of liquids.

One parent asked about getting natural immunity compared to having the COVID-19 vaccine, and Gordon said the vaccine has a greater chance of preventing someone from getting sick. He added that it’s recommended that people who have had COVID-19 receive the vaccine as well.

If a child is currently sick with the flu, one parent asked, could they still receive the vaccine on Nov. 8 if they have tested negative for COVID-19? Gordon said yes, a child could get vaccinated then. If they wanted, they could also wait until they are feeling better.

One parent asked how long inflammation symptoms last in a child with myocarditis, a heart muscle inflammation. While the CDC is monitoring reports of people experiencing heart muscle inflammation after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine, the doctors said risks are much lower for children receiving the vaccine than children who get sick with COVID-19.

The CDC is also monitoring cases of pericarditis, which is inflammation of the outer lining of the heart.

Francis said there have been reports of people getting myocarditis — the main symptom of which is chest pain — from the vaccine, though they are very rare. However, when it occurs, symptoms generally start a few days after the second dose and last less than a week. In those cases, it has caused no lasting negative impact on the heart.

Myocarditis from contracting COVID-19 can be something far more serious, however, potentially resulting in hospitalization, according to Francis.

Regarding concerns about long-term impacts on menstruation cycles or sperm production, Francis said there are no studies showing the vaccine has negative effects on births or fertility.

“There are no vaccines that cause long-term effects, in the long term,” she said in Spanish. “If there is an impact, it’s more immediate, for hours, days or weeks. But months, or years, that doesn’t happen.”

Another parent asked about if receiving the flu and COVID-19 vaccines at the same time or close in time has an impact on children. While a lot isn’t known yet about administering the flu vaccine at the same time as the COVID-19 vaccine for children, Gordon and Francis said, it is recommended that everyone receive both vaccines. If people prefer, they can wait a day or several days in between receiving the flu and COVID-19 vaccines.

Francis and Gordon encouraged parents to talk to their children’s pediatricians and primary care providers about any concerns or questions about the vaccine.

To watch the webinar in English, click here; to watch it in Spanish, click here.