Communicating With Your Family About COVID-19 Vaccinations

The virus that causes COVID-19 (SARs-CoV-2) spread quickly throughout the world, tragically leaving many dead and sickening many more with lasting symptoms. It has been dubbed America’s deadliest pandemic with over 81 million cases and almost one million deaths. Fortunately, vaccines effectively build immunity against COVID-19 and significantly decrease the likelihood of serious illness, hospitalization, and death as a result of infection. 

Since the onset of the virus there have been about 13 million COVID-19 cases and 1,078 deaths in children through 18 years of age. About a quarter of children hospitalized for COVID-19 required intensive care. We have also learned that symptoms from COVID-19 can sometimes remain for a long time, giving it the title of “Long COVID.” Symptoms can include fatigue, muscle pain, difficulty thinking and concentrating (“brain fog”), headache, and insomnia. While people, including children, can experience these symptoms more than four weeks after their illness, researchers are still working to understand how many people are affected and their different experiences. 

To keep COVID-19 at bay, we need to reach a critical mass of the population that is immune to the virus. This is known as herd immunity. Herd immunity means that enough people are immune to limit the spread of the disease. It is particularly important for people at high risk of severe illness who cannot be vaccinated. Immunity can occur in one of two ways – through infection or vaccination. COVID-19 vaccination offers an opportunity for more people to become immune quickly and safely. If everyone who is able to be vaccinated receives the vaccine, communities will more quickly establish herd immunity while also allowing fewer people to suffer the effects of illness and preserving limited resources such as healthcare personnel and equipment. 

As of April of 2021, people sixteen and older were eligible for the vaccine. In May, this expanded to ages twelve and up. Finally, in October, children aged five to twelve were given the go-ahead to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. By mid-March 2022, 57% of 12– to 17-year-old children and about 27% of 5- to 11-year-old children had received both doses of COVID-19 vaccine. However, some parents are still hesitant to get their children vaccinated. To further understand this hesitancy, it is helpful to consider a parents’ perspective.

COVID-19 Vaccine Facts

In general, vaccine hesitancy among parents is due to vaccine effectiveness and safety concerns. The most common side effects of the COVID-19 vaccine are headache, muscle pain, and fever which typically occur shortly after the shot and last for a day or two. While side effects of a vaccine may seem scary, they actually indicate the vaccine is activating your immune system to recognize the virus during a future encounter. 

A small number of people, mostly young males, have experienced myocarditis, or inflammation of the heart, following the second dose of COVID-19 mRNAvaccines. The condition is temporary but can be scary for the individual and their family. Symptoms can include chest pain and shortness of breath. Individuals experiencing these symptoms should seek immediate medical care. Myocarditis following the COVID-19 mRNA vaccine is short-lived and self-resolving and has not been associated with permanent damage. Further, the risk of developing myocarditis as a symptom of COVID-19 vaccination is much lower than the risk of developing it as a result of actual COVID-19 infection. Out of a group of 100,000 people between 16 and 29 years of age, it is approximated that about 1-5 of them would develop myocarditis after vaccination. However, about 39-59 of them would develop myocarditis after COVID-19 infection. 

Early after the vaccines were approved, allergic reactions were a concern. However, allergic reactions to the COVID-19 vaccine have been rare. Most of those who have previously experienced an allergic reaction to other vaccinations or medications can get the COVID-19 vaccine but should remain at the vaccination site for 30 minutes of observation. People with ongoing health conditions or those taking medications can speak to their healthcare provider with any concerns before receiving the vaccine. 

Widespread misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines has also played a role in vaccine hesitancy. Here are important facts about the COVID-19 vaccine: 

Fact: The vaccine was created quickly without cutting corners.

This is because of prior research on the technology contained within the vaccine. Due to the incredible danger the COVID virus posed, a huge amount of financial and human resources worldwide were devoted to creating the vaccine so that it could be released as soon as possible. That allowed for streamlining the process. 

Fact: The vaccine does not affect puberty and fertility.

The vaccine does not affect hormone levels, and there is no biological reason the vaccine would affect puberty or fertility at any point following administration of the vaccine.

Fact: Neither mRNA vaccines, like Pfizer and Moderna, nor adenovirus vaccines like Johnson and Johnson contain the live COVID-19 virus.

Both types of vaccines deliver genetic material specific for the COVID-19 spike protein. Once delivered to our cells, cellular machinery uses the genetic information to make the spike protein, and our immune cells then process the protein to create immunity.

Fact: The vaccine does not contain a microchip.

The vaccine’s sole purpose is to fight the COVID-19 virus by stimulating your immune system.

Fact: You can get the vaccine if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.

Because pregnant women are at increased risk of experiencing severe COVID-19 if infected, compared with non-pregnant women of the same age, they are strongly encouraged to be vaccinated against COVID-19. Additionally, antibodies that the mother may develop from the vaccine can be passed to the baby through the placenta and breast milk. While some studies have suggested that these antibodies can protect the baby, more data are needed

When concerning issues of public health and vaccine safety arise, the public should seek guidance from their doctor and monitor messaging from various reputable sources. 

Talking about Vaccinations with Your Family

Parents and teens need to discuss concerns and hesitations openly and honestly. Start your conversations by discussing what you know, your questions, and where you heard recent news about COVID-19 and the vaccine. Teens may hear information about these topics from friends or teachers at school. Parents may get their information from the news or co-workers. Many parents feel that obtaining more information about adolescent COVID-19 vaccination safety may increase vaccination intentions. Comparing sources is a good way to check your facts and stay up to date with the ever-changing information. Common information sources include news media, friends and family, schools, and the internet. However, federal, state, and local health officials and primary care professionals are some of the most trusted sources of COVID-19 vaccine information among parents and teens. Dig into where family members gather information about COVID-19 and vaccinations and discuss where to find reliable info

Parents and teens also place a great deal of trust in their healthcare provider. In fact, many people are more willing to be vaccinated when at their doctor’s office. The doctor’s office can be a helpful place to talk about COVID-19 risks and the benefits of vaccination with a trusted healthcare professional. Beyond that, many parents also feel more comfortable with their teen receiving the COVID-19 vaccine in a healthcare setting or another familiar environment such as a hospital, clinic, public health department, or school. Talk with a healthcare provider about the importance of taking measures to protect your family and others.

Other trustworthy sources for the latest on COVID-19 include the Vaccine Education Center and PolicyLab, which are both located at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. The CDC, NIH, and WHO are also reliable resources. 

How to Protect Yourself and Others from COVID-19

Here are some straightforward steps families can take to protect themselves and others against COVID-19:

  1. Get vaccinated (and maybe boosted) following the CDC guidelines. Vaccines protect yourself and those around you from the potentially life-threatening symptoms of COVID-19. High rates of vaccination will create herd immunity to protect the vulnerable members of your community like the immunocompromised and those who cannot receive the vaccine for medical reasons. High rates of vaccination will slow the rate of viral mutation and decrease the chance for outbreaks. The vaccine and booster is readily available at many locations through appointment or walk in. Use this resource to find a vaccination site near you.
  2. Wear a mask. Wear a mask when recommended in your area. Mask wearing can protect you and others by reducing spread of the virus from people who may be affected but not  experiencing symptoms. To be effective the mask needs to be covering your mouth and nose. It is further recommended that you use a mask with two or more layers or a KN95 mask. Any mask you use should fit snugly against your face without gaps, and have a nose wire to ensure a secure fit.
  3. If you test positive for COVID-19 or have close contact with someone who has tested positive follow the CDC’s guidance for quarantine or isolation based on your vaccination status. Because the recommendations vary by vaccination and infection status, we recommend checking the CDC’s webpage when you are deciding how to proceed. 
  4. Get tested if you feel sick, have come in contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID, or even more frequently. It is important to get tested for COVID after a contact even if you feel well because many people can have the virus but be asymptomatic. Those without obvious symptoms can still pass the virus to others. It is important to get tested between three and five days after COVID exposure to ensure an accurate test result and it is important to quarantine until the results of your test. Testing is important to stay on top of the pandemic and is vital to getting back to normal.

COVID testing is available for free at select locations. Use this resource to find a testing site near you.

Additional Resources

Resources from CHOP Vaccine Education Center:

COVID-19 Vaccination Clinical and Professional Resources | CDC

A resource from the CDC that gives information on the COVID-19 vaccines like where to get vaccinated and specific information for at risk individuals. 

COVID-19 Vaccines | FDA

News, updates, and facts about the COVID-19 vaccines from the FDA.

COVID-19 vaccines

Information from the WHO that gives public advice, answers questions, and provides up to date news on information regarding the COVID-19 vaccines.

This article was written by Samantha Costello. At the time this article was published, Samantha was an undergraduate at the University of Pennsylvania studying cognitive science and bioethics in the College of Arts and Sciences. Her primary academic interests lie in brain plasticity, human behavior, and learning.

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