En español | With the majority of older adults now vaccinated against COVID-19, health experts are turning their attention to younger generations. All adults age 18 and older are now eligible for Moderna's vaccine, and individuals 16 and older can get in line for Pfizer-BioNTech's shot. (Johnson & Johnson's single-dose vaccine, authorized for use in people 18 and over, is paused for now while U.S. health officials look into a rare blood clotting issue.)
Younger kids won't be far behind. Pfizer recently requested that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) extend its vaccine's authorization to include children 12 and up. And both Moderna and Pfizer are studying how well their vaccines work in children as young as 6 months.
"I would have to dust off my crystal ball, but I think it's very likely that sometime this summer, we're going to see vaccines authorized for [kids 12 and up],” says Bernhard Wiedermann, an infectious disease physician at Children's National Hospital in Washington, D.C. “And I'm very hopeful that it's going to be in time to immunize these children prior to school starting in the fall.” Doing so, he adds, would be a “tremendous benefit” for “controlling the pandemic.”
If someone you know is newly eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine — or could be in the near future — here are four points you can use to talk to them about the advantages of getting vaccinated.
1. Vaccines provide strong protection from severe illness
Older adults have borne the brunt of severe illness and death from COVID-19, but younger adults and children can also get seriously ill from a coronavirus infection. More than 20,000 Americans under the age of 50 have died from COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). And some kids are winding up in the hospital with what pediatric infectious disease specialist Ashlesha Kaushik calls a “really dangerous and risky” COVID 19-related inflammatory syndrome known as MIS-C (multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children).
"So children are not immune to COVID,” says Kaushik, a spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics and an assistant professor in the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine.
What we know about the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines so far is that they are highly effective at preventing a coronavirus infection, as well as at preventing hospitalizations and death from COVID-19 in adults. “So, really, a lot of protection is offered by these vaccines,” Kaushik says. It's still not clear how effective the vaccines will be in children, but early reporting from Pfizer shows that its vaccine had even higher efficacy rates in participants 12 to 15 years old than it did in those 16 to 25 years old. Moderna has not published any preliminary data on its trials in children.
2. Widespread vaccinations can slow surges, variants
New cases of COVID-19 are on the rise. So are hospitalizations from the disease, and it's younger adults (people under age 55) who are driving the current surge, data show.
Unlike what was happening this time last year, hospitals in some areas of the country are overwhelmed “not with elderly, but with these younger individuals,” Wiedermann says. “While they may have less chance of being hospitalized and being ill, when they start to get infected in large numbers, you're going to see something like this, because no one is immune from severe illness from COVID-19,” he adds.
Coronavirus variants, or mutations of the virus, are not helping matters. These more contagious and potentially more lethal strains are spreading in many areas of the country. In an April 16 news briefing, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky noted that the B.1.1.7 variant, originally identified in the United Kingdom, represented 44 percent of the virus circulating during the week of March 27 and that its prevalence since that time “is certainly higher."
So far, studies suggest that our current vaccines still protect against these variants. However, “the more people that are infected now, the more chance we'll see new variants” — potentially ones that don't respond to a vaccine, Wiedermann points out. This is why health experts are working to get as many people vaccinated as quickly as possible. “The more [people who get vaccinated], the faster we'll tamp down spread,” Wiedermann says.
3. You can spend more time with family and friends
A “big buy-in” for getting vaccinated is all the things you can do at greatly reduced risk to yourself and others once you've had your shots, Kaushik says — like spend time with friends and family you may not have seen in the last year. “We've had so much social isolation over this pandemic, so getting rid of that would be the biggest perk,” she says.
CDC guidance says people who have been fully vaccinated can visit in a private setting (like a home) with other fully vaccinated people — no masks required. They can also travel domestically without a pre- or post-travel COVID test and travel internationally without quarantining upon return.
Prevention efforts such as masks and social distancing are still recommended in public, “but privately, in small settings, [vaccinated people] can get rid of some of these,” Kaushik says.
4. COVID-19 isn't going away anytime soon
Unlike smallpox, health experts predict COVID-19 will likely never be eradicated, and that it will continue to circulate in pockets around the globe for years to come. (See “What the Future of COVID-19 Might Look Like” for more.) But vaccines can help make it so that the lockdowns and social distancing are largely a thing of the past, and that COVID-19, which has so far killed more than 3 million people worldwide, is more like a common cold.
"Widespread vaccination is the only way we will ultimately move past this pandemic,” the CDC's Walensky said on April 16.
Talking to someone who is vaccine-hesitant
If someone you know is hesitant about getting the vaccine, Wiedermann suggests abiding by “the Aretha Franklin rule” and maintaining respect. “This is not a time to get confrontational,” he says.
Try to determine their concerns, he says, and point them to reliable coronavirus information from unbiased sources, including the FDA, CDC and state health departments. If they're worried about possible vaccine side effects, let them know that not everybody experiences them, and for those who do, they are not long-lasting. And point out that despite recent concerns over the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, few adverse events have been reported out of millions of vaccinations administered.
Andy Slavitt, a White House senior adviser for COVID-19 response, pointed out on April 16 that while the U.S. has lost more than 560,000 Americans to COVID-19, “125 million Americans have gone and gotten vaccinated, and the results, as we can see, are quite incredible,” he said.
Rachel Nania writes about health care and health policy for AARP. Previously she was a reporter and editor for WTOP Radio in Washington, D.C. A recipient of a Gracie Award and a regional Edward R. Murrow Award, she also participated in a dementia fellowship with the National Press Foundation.
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