(Above: California family practitioner Dr. Sameer Ohri of Corona, CA spoke during a March 15 briefing on the safety and effectiveness of Covid vaccines for children ages 5-11)
The Covid vaccines are absolutely safe and effective in preventing infections in 5-11 year-old children, said California family practitioner Dr. Sameer Ohri during a March 15 briefing organized by the non-profit South Asian Network.
The briefing was held as part of the Vaccinate All 58 and Stop the Spread COVID-19 public awareness campaigns, and was simultaneously interpreted in Hindi, Urdu, and Bangla. Hina Ahmad, deputy director of SAN moderated the briefing, available via the organization’s Facebook page.
“I know there’s a lot of misinformation going around, but comprehensive clinical trials have been done in about 4,500 children ages 5-11 which conclude that the Covid-19 vaccination is perfectly safe, and results in a strong antibody response in children who received the vaccine,” said Ohri. He noted that there are mild side effects, such as fatigue, fever, and headaches, but the benefits of receiving the vaccination far outweigh the mild side effects.
Children may experience pain in their arm, along with redness and swelling, which goes away in a few days. They may also experience tiredness, fatigue, muscle pain, fever, chills and nausea, which are very rare. However, these side effects are normal and should go away in a few days, said Ohri, advising parents to check with their pediatricians before using an over-the-counter pain reliever like aspirin for their newly vaccinated children.
There have been rare cases of myocarditis as well as pericarditis — inflammations around the heart — in young males. “The patients rarely have to be hospitalized, and they get better within a few days. These rare short-term occurrences have very low risk, and those affected generally recover rapidly,” said Ohri.
“It’s very rare for children to require treatment, whereas a Covid-19 infection causes long-term side effects, including myocarditis, which are not treatable. And patients have to live a long time under the severe adverse effects of it if they survive, if it doesn’t get worse. So, I highly encourage everyone to give the vaccine to their 5-11 year-olds, and of course, receiving them yourselves as well,” said Ohri.
In California, less than one-third of 5-11 year-olds are fully vaccinated. Vaccination rates vary widely by county for this age group, according to data from KidsData. In Kings County, fewer than 5 percent of K-6 grade children have been fully vaccinated.
One of the bright spots in the state is Imperial County, a largely agricultural region: 58 percent of 5-11 year olds in the county have been fully vaccinated.
Parents have expressed hesitancy about getting their younger children vaccinated, because of misinformation suggesting the vaccine affects reproductive organs and fertility rates, Ohri said. He addressed parental concerns noting there is no evidence that the vaccine causes reproductive organ failure or infertility.
“The ingredients in the mRNA vaccine never enters the nucleus of the cell where our DNA is kept,” he noted.
Answering questions about vaccine timing for children aged 5-11, Ohri said the second dose of the Pfizer vaccine should be administered 21 days after the first dose. Children in this age group are not yet eligible for boosters, nor do they need one, said Ohri.
The physician was asked about new guidelines on masks in school: as of March 12, the state lifted its mask mandate, allowing children to attend school without masks. Even children below age 5, who are not yet eligible to get vaccinated, can attend preschool and daycare settings without masks.
Ohri noted that masks are most effective when there is a high transmission rate. In California, transmission rates have plummeted since their peak with the Omicron variant. The state continues to strongly recommend that children wear masks in school. And individual school districts can set their own guidelines on masking.
Ohri advised the South Asian American community to find trusted voices they can turn to for reliable information on Covid-19. “Misinformation about Covid-19, its variants and the vaccine is costing people their health, and in too many cases, their lives,” he said.