Renate Engelbrecht
Content producer
5 minute read
2 Dec 2021
1:14 pm

Should your child get the Covid-19 vaccine?

Renate Engelbrecht

With Covid-19 vaccinations open to children aged 11 and older, parents are in two minds while hoping to make the best decisions for their children and their families.

Covid-19 vaccine for children. Picture: iStock

While children are statistically less affected by severe Covid-19, they still contribute to the spread of the virus to more vulnerable people and can be susceptible to severe and/or long Covid-19.

Redhill School’s executive head, Joseph Gerassi, recently interviewed vaccinologist and molecular biologist, Dr Daniel Kapelus around the Covid-19 vaccine for children. Kapelus starts by saying we need to remember that vaccines are safe, effective and reliable.

For him, it is simple: We vaccinate our families because we want to protect our family members, our children and those around them.

Which Covid-19 vaccine for children is available?

The Covid-19 vaccines that are available in South Africa include the Pfizer-BioNTech and the Johnson & Johnson vaccines.

“Our first important note is that the vaccines – and this is true of all vaccines – are designed primarily to decrease the severity of disease, and not necessarily to prevent infection.”

According to Kapelus, if you are vaccinated, you are still at risk of contracting Covid-19 and passing it on, but your risk of severe or long Covid-19 is reduced significantly.

What does the data say?

Vaccinated individuals are five times less likely to be infected and produce a lower viral load when infected. This means it decreases how infectious they are.

“Overall, if your family is vaccinated, you are less likely to contract and transmit the virus, although the risk is still present.”

Does the vax exempt you from Covid-19 protocol?

Not at all. In fact, according to Kapelus, even when you have been vaccinated, you still need to distance yourself socially, sanitise and wear your mask (over your mouth and nose).

“These non-medicinal measures are as important as vaccination in the fight against Covid-19.”

Why did the vaccines develop so quickly?

Kapelus says the development processes were streamlined and run efficiently to avoid delay and corner cutting. Traditional vaccine development is linear with each phase of the trial run consecutively and often funded independently.

This generates a lot of time spent on admin rather than science. In the Covid-19 vaccine trials, the phases were funded together and ran concurrently to save time, and the manufacturing was done at risk before and while regulatory approval was being obtained.

The vaccines were also developed in a highly pressurised environment with huge resources as virtually the entire medical science world was involved.

ALSO READ: Hesitancy or misinformation – why are South Africans not getting vaccinated?

Comparing vaccines to your daily food intake

Kapelus says that vaccines aren’t much different from your daily food choices.

“The vaccines contain either entirely natural ingredients, or synthetic ingredients that are commonly used in processed food items that most people eat regularly. All the ingredients in the vaccines are ones that your body is likely to have seen before – just because something has a long chemical name, doesn’t mean that alarm bells should start ringing.”

3-methylbutanal and 2-hydroxy-3-methylethyl butanoate are compounds you also find in bananas. The other components of the vaccines are buffering salts to balance the pH level and sugars to act as stabilisers – both natural compounds.

All traces of the vaccine are eliminated from your system within three to four weeks following the vaccination.

“The vaccines do not contain an entire SARS-CoV-2 virus, not the proteins or mRNA required to cause disease, so you cannot get Covid-19 from the vaccine.”

What happens if your child takes the vaccine?

The Covid-19 vaccines have a good and well-supported safety profile according to Kapelus. He says you can expect to feel some mild short-term side effects like fever, chills, body aches, headaches, joint pains and general flu-like symptoms for one to three days after being vaccinated.

“The experience of such side effects is no different from one’s chance of developing side effects after, for example, a normal flu vaccine which most people routinely have every year.”

ALSO READ: These are the Omicron variant symptoms to look out for

Kapelus is confident that there are no noted long-term effects.

“Between the people who participated in the original vaccine trials and the people vaccinated in the first phases of the vaccine rollouts, we have a considerable number of people around the world who have been vaccinated for well over 18 months with no long-term side effects observed.”

He says in terms of SAEs (severe adverse effects), the data shows that the risk associated with SAEs like anaphylaxis, blood clots or heart inflammation is minute, whereas the risk of developing these symptoms from Covid-19 infection itself is much greater.

In a cohort of almost 5,000 children during the Pfizer-BioNTech trials for the Covid-19 vaccine for children aged 11-17, there were no incidences of SAEs.

When should your child avoid the vaccine?

According to Kapelus, the presence of underlying health conditions like autoimmune disorders, immunosuppressed or immunocompromised states, asthma, heart conditions or allergies unrelated to vaccines or injectable medications are not contraindications of the Covid-19 vaccination.

It may be safer to avoid the vaccine when you have a known allergy to a vaccine ingredient, a history of allergy to vaccines specifically, or experience of an SAE after the first dose. This safety data is continuously being updated as more and more people get vaccinated.

Where can parents get more trusted information?

Kapelus suggests that parents rather stick to trusted institutions like the WHO, CDC, NICD, university sites like Oxford, Harvard, Johns Hopkins and mainstream media that cites sources like these.