With SMH Infectious Disease specialist Manuel Gordillo, MD
Anyone over age 12 is now eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine, making it possible for millions more people to get effective protection against the novel coronavirus. In Sarasota County, the local health department’s free, walk-in vaccination site makes the process easier than ever.
Yet many in our community are still hesitant to get the shot, raising concerns for those too young to be vaccinated and for immunocompromised adults who remain at risk even after vaccination.
We asked Sarasota Memorial epidemiologist and Infectious Disease specialist Manuel Gordillo, MD, for advice to help families with unvaccinated children and at-risk adults navigate this new normal as pandemic protocols ease up and vaccinated Americans enjoy a mostly mask-free summer.
Has the U.S. reached herd immunity?
The decision by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to relax universal masking recommendations is a watershed moment in this pandemic and reflects growing confidence in the success and protection afforded by the COVID-19 vaccines.
As of this week, 50% of Americans had received at least one dose of vaccine against the novel coronavirus, and states had sufficient supply for everyone 12 and older to receive the vaccine.
While we may never reach herd immunity, the immunity offered by the vaccines and among those who’ve had COVID-19 in the past is resulting in lower infection rates here and across the U.S. That downward trend in infections is expected to continue.
Vaccines Save Lives
All Floridians age 12 and older are eligible for the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. Those age 18 and older are eligible for the Moderna, Johnson & Johnson (Janssen) or Pfizer vaccines. Click here to learn more about eligibility.
Where Can I Get Vaccinated?
The Department of Health, some clinics and retail pharmacies (Publix, CVS, Walgreens, Target, Winn-Dixie, etc.) are facilitating community COVID-19 vaccinations in Sarasota County. For vaccination locations and opportunities, visit the Florida Department of Health website at floridahealthcovid19.gov.
Until you become fully vaccinated (2 weeks after your final dose), continue taking steps to protect yourself and your loved ones while minimizing the spread of COVID-19, including wearing a mask and social distancing, in accordance with CDC recommendations.
Is the pandemic is over?
We’ve certainly reached a turning point that’s worth celebrating, but the pandemic is far from over.
We continue to see thousands of hospitalizations across the nation every day and hundreds of deaths, including a disproportionate share among people of color and in communities with limited access to vaccination opportunities.
If we want to end the pandemic, we have to do all we can to encourage those around us to get vaccinated, to protect children too young for vaccination and those who are immuno-compromised and may not be fully protected by the current COVID-19 vaccines.
Should kids continue wearing masks? What are the COVID-19 risks for vaccine-eligible adolescents and kids under 12 who cannot be vaccinated?
We strongly encourage parents to get their children age 12 and older vaccinated. Once fully vaccinated, the CDC says, it's safe for kids 12 and up to remove their masks in most settings — just like fully vaccinated adults.
Pediatricians recommend that unvaccinated children (age 2 and older) continue to wear masks around others when indoors and take other precautions to protect themselves and at-risk adults in their lives, especially those who are immunocompromised or over 65. If everyone in the immediate family and in small gatherings is low-risk, it’s safe for kids to enjoy unmasked activities at home and outdoors.
Children too young to be vaccinated and anyone with immunocompromised conditions are best protected when the adults and vaccine-eligible adolescents around them are vaccinated as well.
Currently, about 24% of the COVID-19 cases in the United States are in young children, and about 300 have died from the virus since the pandemic began. Although young kids are at much lower risk of having severe COVID-19 infection, novel coronavirus has sent more than 16,000 to hospitals (as of May 20) — that’s more children than are hospitalized for flu in an average year, according to the American Academy of Pediatricians. And long-term effects of COVID-19 remain largely unknown.
Have there been any serious complications among vaccinated adolescents?
Just like other childhood immunizations, the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine has gone through clinical trials and rigorous scientific review to determine that it's safe for children as young as 12. Moderna also has been studying the safety and effectiveness of its vaccine on adolescents and plans to ask the Food and Drug Administration to expand the emergency use of its COVID-19 vaccine for teens in early June. Beyond the clinical trials, health officials continue to gather information on the more than 3.75 million adolescents age 12 to 17 who’ve received at least one dose of the Pfizer shot in the United States.
While the CDC announced this week that it is looking into reports that a very small number of vaccinated teenagers and young adults may have experienced inflammation of the heart muscle (myocarditis), that review is in the early stages, and there is not yet a clear link to the vaccines. The agency has posted guidance on its website advising doctors and clinicians to be alert to unusual heart symptoms among young people who had just received their shots.
Experts emphasize that the potentially rare side effect of myocarditis pales in comparison to the potential risks of COVID-19, including the persistent syndrome called “long COVID,” which itself can cause myocarditis. Last summer, a German study that used cardiac magnetic resonance to screen COVID-19 survivors found that 60% of the test group had evidence of myocarditis, even those who had mild COVID-19 symptoms or were asymptomatic.
Will the vaccine be available to children younger than 12 this year?
In May, the Pfizer vaccine became available to everyone age 12 and up. The Moderna and Johnson & Johnson (Janssen) vaccines currently are approved only for those 18 and older, but all 3 manufacturers of U.S.-authorized vaccines are studying the safety and effectiveness of their vaccines in children as young as 6 months. Realistically, COVID-19 vaccines could roll out for younger children this fall.
Should kids wait to get routine immunizations if they’re getting a COVID vaccine?
No. It’s safe for children to receive COVID-19 vaccines along with other immunizations (such as measles and HPV vaccines), particularly if they’ve fallen behind schedule for regular childhood vaccinations.
Are COVID-19 vaccine side effects different for kids?
Fevers are slightly more common in 12- to 15-year-olds compared to adults, most likely due to adolescents’ stronger immune response. In general, however, side effects are similar to those seen in adults, and typically last 1 to 3 days.
Like adults, more adolescents report experiencing side effects after the second dose than after the first dose. The most common side effects reported include discomfort at the injection site, headache, chills, fever and muscle/joint pain.
Can I give my child Tylenol to minimize vaccine side effects?
Wait to see if symptoms develop and your child is uncomfortable before giving a pain reliever such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen.
Don't give any pain reliever right before or right after vaccination, as it can suppress the body’s immune response and effectiveness of the vaccine.
Can a child with allergies get the COVID-19 vaccine?
Like adults, children should not get the COVID-19 vaccine if they have a history of severe allergic reaction to any ingredient (such as polyethylene glycol) in the Pfizer vaccine. (Click here for a fact sheet with the Pfizer vaccine ingredients.) The vaccine does not contain eggs, preservatives or latex. If you have doubts, talk to your pediatrician before getting your child vaccinated.
Written by Sarasota Memorial Public Information Officer Kim Savage, who has overseen media relations and external communications for the health system since 1999.
** NOTE: This content was originally posted May 25, 2021. Information related to COVID-19 and COVID-19 vaccines is continually evolving. For the most up to date info, we recommend visiting cdc.gov.