COVID-19 numbers aren’t what they were at the pandemic’s peak, but omicron continues to keep us on our toes. That’s why the CDC recommends Moderna’s and Pfizer’s updated booster shots for children and adults.
As a mom of four and a pediatric infectious disease specialist, I know families are tired of hearing about and dealing with this virus and its effects. One of the best ways to protect ourselves, as well as our friends and family, is to stay up to date on vaccinations.
How do the newest boosters work and who should get them?
The updated boosters provide additional protection against the latest variants of COVID-19, making them more effective than their predecessors at protecting against infection and disease. The boosters received emergency use authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for kids twelve and older in late August and for kids five and older in October. Updated COVID-19 boosters from Pfizer are recommended for kids ages five years and older and from Moderna for kids six and up.
These latest vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer are bivalent vaccines which means they combine the original vaccine with one that targets the omicron strains. Even if you’ve already received one booster, the updated shot is recommended because it’s formulated to better protect against the most recently circulating variants. This will become especially important as we head into the cooler months with more indoor holiday gatherings.
Kids have returned to school and people of all ages have resumed normal activities, but the risk of being exposed to the virus hasn’t gone away. Boosters are as important as ever. Masks (for those over age two) are also a good idea in public settings, especially during the respiratory virus season, which has been a tough one so far.
What’s the deal with long COVID?
Protecting against COVID-19 and its effects isn’t just a short-term goal. As with adults, we’re seeing some kids recover quickly from infections, while others struggle with symptoms for months. The latter is considered long COVID, sometimes called post-COVID conditions.
Long COVID can be described as one or more symptoms that impact daily life, last at least twelve weeks after a case of COVID-19, and can’t be explained by any other diagnosis. Symptoms may include chest pain, cough, difficulty breathing, fatigue, fever, headache, heart palpitations, joint or muscle pain, light-headedness, and loss of taste or smell.
A study published over the summer in JAMA Network Open (a medical journal published by the American Medical Association) estimates the prevalence of long COVID in kids to be 5 to 10 percent of cases, with symptoms being more prevalent in kids fourteen and older – but the risk for more severe complications is higher among children under five and those with complex medical conditions. For comparison, long COVID is estimated to impact about one third of adults who have had a COVID-19 infection. That’s generally good news for children.
That said, one of the big challenges with long COVID is that there is no such thing as a typical case, which also means there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach for treating it. We usually approach care by ruling out other causes for the symptoms and then treating them individually.
There is still a lot to be learned about why some children and adults experience long COVID and others don’t, and what the even longer-term effects may be. We do know that vaccines are the best way to protect against COVID-19 and its lingering symptoms.
Don’t forget about the flu.
The flu also begs for attention this time of year, requiring precautions to keep it from infiltrating our homes and schools. Everyone six months and older should get the influenza vaccine, with the rare exception for the small number of individuals who’ve had severe reactions to the flu vaccine in the past.
The U.S. flu vaccine is reviewed every year and updated to match circulating flu viruses. If your family hasn’t gotten yours yet, now is the time. It takes a couple weeks for antibodies to develop, then the vaccination will continue providing protection throughout the worst months of the flu season.
The CDC says it’s safe to get COVID-19 vaccines at the same time as other immunizations, including the flu shot. Data from other vaccines show that the way our bodies develop protection is similar whether vaccines are given alone or with others. Side effects are similar, too. If you’d prefer to stagger your child’s COVID-19 and other vaccines, that’s okay. The most important thing is that they have them.
Where should you get vaccines?
COVID-19 vaccines, boosters, and flu shots are available at most pharmacies, doctors’ offices, and hospitals.
Your pediatrician or primary care provider is the best source of information related to your child’s specific medical needs. The latest COVID-19, flu, and vaccine information is always available from Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU.