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Utah doctor: COVID-19 vaccine is safe and effective in children

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RIVERTON — The Food and Drug Administration approved the COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 5-11 and recommended emergency use authorization. It could be available as soon as next week. A Utah pediatrician explains what parents should know.

Games are a favorite pastime for Rachel Johnson and her kids. But there's something she won't gamble with: their health.

"I've been joking with people that I would willingly camp out like Black Friday because we want to get these guys vaccinated as soon as possible," said Johnson, who lives in Riverton.

For Drake Johnson, age 11, and Evie Johnson, age 8, getting COVID-19 could be devastating. "If they get sick and can't keep food down, we have to take them to the hospital," said Rachel Johnson. Their bodies can't process fat for energy because of a metabolic disorder. But COVID-19 can be risky for all kids, even those who are healthy.

Many people have been told that 'COVID is not bad for children.' ... 'Children don't get very sick.' Unfortunately, that hasn't turned out to be true.

–Dr. Andrew Pavia

"Many people have been told that 'COVID is not bad for children.' ... 'Children don't get very sick.' Unfortunately, that hasn't turned out to be true," said Dr. Andrew Pavia, with University of Utah Health and Intermountain Primary Children's Hospital. Pavia is an infectious disease specialist.

He said parents who are hesitant about the vaccine should consider this: "Will my child get infected with COVID?' The answer is: Probably, if they go to a Utah school. 'Will they be OK?' Probably. But not all kids have mild disease."

Pavia said 350 kids have been hospitalized with COVID-19 at Primary Children's since January. He said about 1 in 10 kids who get sick suffer with long-term symptoms. "That, for children, can be one of the most devastating things, if you're fatigued, can't concentrate, can't do schoolwork for three to six months," he said.

According to Pfizer and BioNTech, the kids' vaccine is a third of the adult dose. During trials, it was more than 90% effective against symptomatic COVID-19. The FDA said the benefits of the vaccine outweigh the risks of any side effects.

For Drake and Evie, the vaccine can't come soon enough. "To have the protection. So that we can be a little be more free," Johnson said. For her, that's a "winning hand," giving peace of mind. "I was the kid you'd have to chase around the doctor's office to get the shots or whatever, so I've come a full 180."

If you have questions about the COVID-19 vaccine for children, contact your child's pediatrician. Here's the full report of Pfizer and BioNTech findings.

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Heather Simonsen
Heather Simonsen is a five-time Emmy Award-winning enterprise reporter for KSL-TV. Her expertise is in health and medicine, drug addiction, science and research, family, human interest and social issues. She is the host and producer of KSL-TV’s Positively 50+ initiative.


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