LISTEN: Alaska pediatricians talk vaccines with parents and kids as eligibility expands

This 16-year-old received a Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 injection at the UCI Health Family Health Center in Anaheim, California late last month. Students as young as 12 are now also eligible for the vaccine, the FDA says. Paul Bersebach / MediaNews Group / Orange County Register via Getty Images

Health officials in Alaska have officially said that children as young as 12 years old are eligible for the Pfizer-Biontech vaccine against COVID-19, following approval by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

And well before that news Wednesday, pediatricians in Alaska have seen great interest from parents in hopes of getting their children vaccinated. One of them is Dr. Michelle Laufer, a pediatrician in Anchorage for over 20 years.

Laufer, of Medical Park Family Care, says it has been overwhelming to see the negative consequences caused by months of limiting children’s interactions with their peers, and sees opening up vaccinations to 12-15 year olds as a way to get their development back on track.

Read a full transcript of the interview, edited for clarity.

Dr. Michelle Laufer: Most of what I hear is, “When can I get it?” Many parents are just really excited that their kids have been vaccinated and feel safer doing all the things kids should be doing: going out, volunteering, playing music, exercising. Most of what I hear is, of course, there are some questions about the safety of the vaccine and the long-term implications of vaccination against COVID, but most of all I would say, it’s just enthusiasm, ‘When can I get it? When will we have it in stock? How can my child get it? ‘

Casey Grove: Are there other guidelines for administering this to children? Or is there any difference in what side effects we would expect and how common that would be?

Dr. Michelle Laufer: No, it is the same dose that adults receive.

Many vaccines are like this because with vaccines we use the smallest amount possible to induce the immune system to create the desired response. In the studies of this age group, 12-15 years, we saw very similar things to the 16-18 year olds. The most common reactions are an aching arm. Some people get a fever and feel a bit under the weather for a day or so, especially after the second dose.

But that’s a really good thing because it shows that your immune system is working and responding. So really, we have seen in the studies and in real life that the side effects of the vaccine are similar in this 12 to 15 year old age group as in older teens and young adults.

Casey Grove: Whether it is you or the nurses who administer the vaccine, how do you feel about playing a role in that? And how do you think you’ll feel when you see people get the vaccine and walk out the door?

Dr. Michelle Laufer: Oh, I am so grateful to have this vaccine. It is my understanding that about 600 children have died from COVID disease. And people say, “Well, that’s a low number.” 600 children are still dead.

I would say the much bigger implication for children – beyond the possibility of long-term effects – is the socio-emotional impact of the isolation on adolescents this year. I’ve been a pediatrician for 20 years and I’ve never seen so many depressed, anxious, kids and teens eating disorders.

It has been really overwhelming to see how families and children struggle because the fundamental task of adolescence in terms of child development is to separate yourself from your family and connect with peers and move towards independence. to work. And that was just absolutely interrupted this year. That is why I am very grateful to the vaccine.

Casey Grove: Aside from that, it sounds like there is really a lot of interest, there are still going to be people who are skeptical. And I wonder what would you say to someone who is really skeptical about getting their child this vaccine and maybe even inclined not to? What would you tell that person?

Dr. Michelle Laufer: You know, that definitely shows up in my pediatrics practice with the COVID vaccine, or any vaccine really. Parents have questions about interventions with their children – as it should be. And what I generally share with parents is that as a pediatrician I feel like the most evidence-based and the most science-based intervention I can provide are vaccines.

This vaccine is no exception. This vaccine is probably the most closely researched vaccine in United States history. So I tell them that I feel very comfortable recommending this vaccine to their children. What’s different about this vaccine from all the other vaccines we have to deal with in pediatrics is that there are some kind of political connotations that go along with this vaccine, which is kind of new.

I try not to accept it. I’m just trying to stick to what the evidence is and offer a benefit-risk analysis, which is what we as doctors do every day. And I think the benefit of the COVID vaccine far outweighs the risks.

Medical Park Family Care is an Alaska Public Media underwriter.

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