Dr. Cara Natterson answers your questions about the Covid-19 vaccine
A recent clinical trial showed that Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine is safe and effective in younger adults. Pfizer’s vaccine is currently approved in the U.S. for people 16 years and older, and recently, the company requested an Emergency Use Authorization for administering their vaccine to people ages 12 to 15. We spoke to Dr. Cara Natterson, pediatrician and New York Times bestselling author, to answer your questions about vaccinating your kids. “The issue of whether or not you should vaccinate your child is not confusing to me,” Dr. Natterson said. “There are many more documented complications to being infected with this virus than risks to being vaccinated.” Dr. Natterson spoke with us about the biggest questions she gets from parents and when she expects the vaccine to be available for kids 12 years and older.
Do you still have questions about getting vaccinated? Here’s what a vaccine trial doctor wants you to know.
Katie Couric Media: Earlier this week, Pfizer called on the FDA to authorize its Covid-19 vaccine for kids ages 12 to 15. Many parents out there are wondering… Is the vaccine safe?
Dr. Cara Natterson: Pfizer’s Emergency Use Authorization request will take some time — possibly several weeks. I think Moderna is not far behind. And there are ongoing studies in kids 6-months to 11-years-old, so hopefully, that data will be collected fairly quickly.
The issue of whether or not you should vaccinate your child is not confusing to me. Given the current data — and compared with the known risks of Covid-19 — I feel extraordinarily comfortable with the vaccines. My 17-year-old daughter just got vaccinated last week, and I literally cannot wait for my 15-year-old’s EUA [Emergency Use Authorization].
That being said, I must get 10 emails a day saying, But there are no long-term studies and We don’t know the long-term side effects. This is true. We don’t have long-term studies on these very new vaccines that have been developed in response to a pandemic. But what we can do is compare the impact of Covid-19 to the vaccines. Covid-19 has been circulating on our globe for about 15 to 16 months. We’ve got nearly a year’s worth of data on the vaccines, so that’s what we need to compare. The data shows that there are many more documented complications to being infected with this virus than risks to being vaccinated. So for me, I didn’t bat an eye before I gave my daughter her dose of vaccine at age 17.
What do you tell parents who say, ‘Well, kids are less at risk for Covid-19. Why should I vaccinate a healthy child?’
I deeply hope that parents do not opt out of vaccinating their children simply because kids tend to get less sick with Covid-19 than adults do. We know that kids and adolescents pass coronavirus very effectively. So while it’s great that they don’t tend to get hospitalized at nearly the rates of older adults and very, very few will die of the disease, kids are very effective reservoirs of the disease. We will not reach herd immunity until we slow the spread in our entire population — and that includes our kids. So, I think it’s part of a social responsibility campaign to include kids in vaccination efforts.
What is the biggest question or concern you get about the vaccine from parents?
The biggest question I get about vaccines is: Well, what about fertility and future fertility issues? The theoretical concern is that mRNA Covid-19 vaccines — both Pfizer and Moderna — produce antibodies that can cross-react at the placenta, making it impossible for a placenta to thrive during pregnancy. The placenta is where the fetus gets all of its nutrition. The placenta is where the fetus gets all of its nutrition, so you don’t want antibodies attacking the placenta.
There is no data to suggest that the vaccines generate effective anti-placental antibodies. Nor is there data to suggest that pregnant women who have gotten the vaccine have generated anti-placenta antibodies. I completely understand the fear — and it’s very rational when an issue like this is brought forward to question it — but science doesn’t bear it out.
When my 17-year-old daughter was able to get the vaccine, we talked about the infertility claims, we read the articles, and we both absolutely agreed she would be vaccinated.
Doctors have said that many young people are suffering Covid-19 complications as variants continue to spread. B.1.1.7. — the variant first detected in the UK — is now the most dominant strain in the U.S. What should parents know about the new variant?
There are all of these articles that have come out in the last week about school sports, and it’s the B.1.1.7. variant that’s spreading very quickly among student-athletes. So that’s something worth paying close attention to, but it’s only one side of the equation.
We need to figure out what to prioritize: the physical and mental health of kids or the spread of the disease. School sports are a perfect example because they help with physical and mental health, but may potentially increase the spread of Covid-19. I think the answer is that if we can get to widespread vaccination — while continuing safety mitigations like masking, social distancing, and hand washing — we can slow the viral spread and allow activities that benefit the physical and mental health of kids.
This means vaccinating both adults and kids, which is scary for a lot of parents. For those of us who work in healthcare — everyone from doctors to bench scientists — it’s really not complicated. The data’s very clear that preventing the spread of infection using vaccines plus mitigations (like masking) is far safer than getting the infection. As for the variants, it remains to be seen whether the current vaccines will work against them… but masking, distancing, and hand washing work no matter the strain, so those things shouldn’t go away anytime soon!
Cara Natterson, MD, is a pediatrician, consultant, and New York Times bestselling author of puberty and parenting books. In 2020, she launched OOMLA, a company dedicated to making puberty more comfortable, literally.
Cara’s journey through health advocacy began at Harvard College, Johns Hopkins Medical School, and the University of California at San Francisco. In 2000, Cara joined Tenth Street Pediatrics in Santa Monica, caring for thousands of kids from birth through their teen years. In 2008, she founded Worry Proof Consulting, a practice that gives parents time their primary doctors often don’t have to cover medical, behavioral, and parenting issues in depth. Cara travels the country speaking to both kids and parents about taking ownership of their health and wellness, translating cutting-edge research into understandable, actionable, and even entertaining information.
Cara has served on several boards as a Director or Advisor, including Starlight Children’s Foundation, The Honest Company, Zemcar, Baby2Baby, and The John Thomas Dye School.
Written by Eliza Costas