Kids can finally get vaccinated. This is how we know it’s safe

Taylor Hirth’s daughter took part in the pediatric Pfizer vaccine trial (photo submitted).

Back in June, with the prospect of my 8-year-old daughter returning to full-time, in-person schooling fast approaching, I took the opportunity to enroll her in the pediatric Pfizer vaccine trial.

While there was only a 50% chance of her receiving the vaccine vs. a placebo, I figured that 50% was better than nothing. As a single mom, I have learned to take every precaution available to safeguard against needing to use up valuable sick and vacation time on preventable illnesses. That includes wearing a mask, being diligent about hygiene, getting the yearly flu shot, and now, getting vaccinated for COVID-19.

Last Wednesday morning, thanks to the emergency use authorization being approved for the Pfizer vaccine, I was notified that as trial participants we’d have the option to be unblinded earlier than originally anticipated.

I enthusiastically took that option, eager to know whether or not my daughter had some protection from a virus that has killed people I know, hospitalized others and upended our lives for the past nearly two years.

On Friday we were given the welcome news that my daughter had, in fact, received the pediatric Pfizer vaccine back in July.

I am aware that my daughter was not at high risk for complications or hospitalization from COVID-19. That doesn’t mean that we’re out of the woods. While my eagerness to get her vaccinated was motivated in part by a desire to prevent long-haul symptoms should she contract it, in truth it was always more about protecting those people in our lives who are at high risk for complications from COVID-19.

Last December, before a planned get-together with family including my dad who has a rare Leukemia, I opted to take a COVID test just to be safe. I had been feeling run down and sore but attributed any symptoms to the stress of first time homeownership, moving and unpacking.

Imagine my shock when my test came back positive.

Cue exhaustion, muscle aches, shortness of breath and waves of other strange symptoms that lasted for months and still seem to occasionally reappear. But what really stuck with me was the fact that even though I had been careful, I had almost unknowingly exposed my immunocompromised father to a virus that could have killed him. My dad isn’t the only immunocompromised or at-risk person in my life. I couldn’t live with myself if something happened to any of them and I was the one who had put that chain of events into motion.

So when the option to get myself vaccinated came about, I jumped at the chance. And when the option to get my daughter vaccinated early was presented, I jumped at that chance as well.

Being a part of a medical trial meant more than just dropping by the clinic for a shot and then calling them if something goes wrong. Each week we had to report back to the researchers whether or not any symptoms or side effects developed. This may sound like it means that scientists don’t know the risks and that my child is being used as a Guinea pig, but that’s simply not true.

Before vaccines like this ever reach the pediatric phase, even in emergency situations, significant research has already been done to ensure safety. mRNA vaccines have been studied for upwards of 30 years, and we’ve been researching the Coronavirus family of viruses for even longer, so the science isn’t new. By the time my daughter got her first dose of Pfizer vaccine, we already had more than a year worth of research for this particular vaccine under our belt.

Regarding side effects, vaccines are different from over-the-counter medications that are taken sometimes on a daily basis over a period of years. With medicine that enters and exits the body over long periods of time, new side effects can emerge as our bodies change. But with vaccines, side effects present within a matter of weeks, not over the course of years, because the vaccine introduces new information to the immune system and then leaves the body.

No vaccine in history has resulted in side effects that suddenly appeared years after injection.

Additionally, the side effects that have in rare cases presented as a result of the COVID-19 vaccine — conditions like myocarditis and Thrombosis with thrombocytopenia syndrome (TTC) — are all significantly more likely to develop as a side effect of Covid-19 infection than with the vaccine.

My child’s DNA has not been altered. Her arm is not magnetized. Nor has she developed any new access to 5G. Much to her dismay, when she gets an attitude, she cannot use her injection site to access the internet after I turn off the WiFi.

We have standards for vaccines, additional research was conducted and my daughter had the opportunity to participate and potentially access the vaccine earlier than her peers.

Unfortunately, that also meant that her road to getting vaccinated wasn’t as simple as popping into CVS on a Sunday. Any time my daughter had a sore throat or a tummy ache or a fever, it was a whole ordeal. If my daughter woke up in the morning complaining of a headache, we’d have to sit through a telehealth visit, and she’d have to have a COVID test administered.

She had so many administered throughout the study that she became an expert at administering them herself. Getting tested for COVID is not fun, especially for an 8 year old.

Once during the study she woke up with a fever. It involved: A telehealth visit, a COVID test for the trial researchers (results in a week or two), an urgent care visit, a strep throat test, a rapid COVID test (results in a day or two) and an instant at-home COVID test for my own sanity.

She got ice cream for dinner that day.

So did I.

All this to say, even though significant research and sacrifice has already proved the safety and efficacy of the vaccine by the time trials reach the pediatric phase, there is still a substantial amount of time invested and data collected and compiled to identify and address any new potential risks.

In our experience, there were none.

For my daughter, the only adverse effect we ever attributed to the vaccine was a sore arm for a day or two. According to her, the shot feels like somebody pushing a pointy pen on your arm, and is “waaay better than getting a q-tip shoved all the way up to your eyeballs a bunch of times to see if you have the virus.”

The benefits, in our opinion, far outweigh any risks. As restrictions ease and we grow more and more lax with mask-wearing, I cannot express the relief I feel knowing that the vast majority of my friends and family, including my child and her friends, will now have this added layer of protection from a virus that has taken so many.

Taylor Hirth is a is a freelance writer, public speaker, dedicated advocate for survivors of sexual violence and contributor to the Missouri Independent, which first published this essay.

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