The COVID-19 Vaccine and Kids: A Pediatrician Weighs In

**By Derrick L. Soong, MD, FAAP**

As research on COVID-19 continues, how the virus affects adults is more widely apparent than how it affects kids. Preliminary studies have shown us that children are seemingly not transmitting the virus as easily as adults are, however, we’re still discovering the specific variants most commonly spread among kids.

While it’s true that kids who’ve contracted COVID-19 don’t exhibit as severe symptoms as adults, we must not downplay this result. A small percentage of children who’ve had the virus can develop MIS-C, multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children.

Being a pediatric doctor, I get questions from parents every day, ranging from if and when their kid needs to wear a mask, when the vaccine will be available for kids or when they can play with friends and hug their grandparents again.

To help parents navigate these tricky conversations with their young ones, I wanted to share some of the most common questions I’ve received from parents and the research that other doctors and I have been doing to understand more about kids and COVID-19.


Is it safe for my child to attend in-person school?

There are pros and cons when it comes to in-person learning, but as long as the child is following CDC guidelines, they should be safe. In-person learning provides an environment for kids to foster social interactions, make friends and build relationships, acquire critical thinking skills and participate in activities that children need to be successful later in life. Adding to this, not all children have the ability to self-motivate or the discipline to keep up with online school while avoiding surrounding distractions.

The progress that the U.S. has made in terms of vaccine rollout for teachers and essential workers is encouraging, and as long as those teaching in-person are vaccinated, parents can feel some ease sending their kids back.

Though children are generally at a lower risk of contracting COVID-19 than adults, this does not mean they are immune. If parents and households are following all CDC guidelines, such as unvaccinated people wearing masks when outside of the home, the risk for children is greatly reduced, even when attending in-person school. When at school, masks should be worn at all times, and kids should try to maintain social distance.

How safe is the vaccine for kids and when are kids able to get it? 

Given the mRNA mechanism for how Pfizer and Moderna vaccines work, I do expect that they will be safe for kids without causing significant issues. According to Pfizer, the vaccine has so far been 100% effective in trials for preventing COVID-19 in children aged 12-15. On Monday, May 11, the Food and Drug Administration authorized the use of the Pfizer vaccine for this age group in the United States, and on May 12, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention approved the Pfizer vaccine for children aged 12-15.

For younger children ages 11 and below, Pfizer has said that it is currently testing the vaccine and performing trials on children as young as six months old. This group could become eligible as early as end of this year or early next.

For more information on mRNA vaccines, check out this blog written by Benaroya Research Institute at Virginia Mason Principal Investigator Adam Lacy-Hulbert, PhD.

Can my kids see their vaccinated grandparents?

Not traveling is the safest thing to do. If you must travel, you should take precautions.

Yes, grandkids may visit their vaccinated grandparents, but we still recommend masking up. Having to still wear a mask might be frustrating for some, but it’s important to understand that there is still a possibility you could get COVID-19 despite being vaccinated. This virus is still very new, and research is still being performed.

For vaccinated grandparents considering traveling to visit family and friends, driving is still the safest option. If you must fly, double-masking is recommended. Overall, I would advise holding off with traveling until cases drop down in your region/destination and more people are vaccinated.

What will summer look like?

Sentiments are largely positive heading into the summer compared to last year and will remain positive so as long as vaccine efforts continue. It’s imperative we continue encouraging hesitant members of our community to get the vaccine. This, along with more outdoor and socially distanced activities, will help to greatly reduce our positive-case counts this summer.

Hopefully, most of the population will have antibodies to the virus when June rolls around. Better weather and more activities and events outdoors should result in a happier summer for all.

Soong_Derrick_2017Derrick Soong, MD, FAAP, is board-certified in pediatrics and currently practices at the Virginia Mason Issaquah Medical Center. Dr. Soong specializes in obesity, ADHD, general pediatrics and primary care.

Helping Your Child Wear a Mask During COVID-19

**By Rebecca Partridge, MD**

If you are a parent of a young child during the pandemic, you know firsthand how hard it can be to explain what is going on and why your child must wear a face covering when in public places or around people outside of your household. I’m sure many of you have felt like giving up on having your little ones mask up.

As a parent myself, I recognize that teaching children the importance of wearing a mask has its challenges. Still, I’m here to tell you that even if your child is struggling with this new directive, you can do it! It’s just going to take time and persistence. Current CDC guidelines state that anyone able to wear a mask, excluding children under 2 years of age, should do so in order to keep each other safe. Advice for younger children includes prioritizing mask wearing for times when it is difficult to maintain a distance of 6 feet from others, such as in carpools or when standing in line. 

mom-maskAs a mother and a physician who sees many parents struggling when it comes to teaching their young children why and how to wear their masks, I’ve come up with a few kid-friendly tips.

Get them excited about it

I’ve found that kids respond well to masks featuring their favorite cartoon characters or other designs that excite them. By providing your child with different choices in terms of the color, shapes, styles and features on the mask, you can turn something that is foreign and uncomfortable into something exciting and actually fun. Many children love to look like Spider-Man or Minnie Mouse; if their mask gives them an opportunity to “become” their favorite characters, your child is more likely to wear it. Parents should also express their own enthusiasm for masking up when around their kids to serve as an example that hopefully gets followed.

Gradually increase mask time

I’m hearing from many parents that their child is willing to try on the mask, but that they can only keep it on for a few seconds before they get bored and take it off. Parents should work with their child on wearing a mask for short periods of time to start and then graduate to longer periods of mask wearing. Try doing a countdown with your kids, distract them by playing their favorite video or giving them their favorite toy. Provide praise and positive attention when they keep the mask on. Do this until your child is able to keep the mask on for the time needed to run an errand in public or other activities you’d like to enjoy with your family.

Read stories with your child that include mask-wearing characters

For children who are having a really hard time tolerating wearing a mask, consider reading books to them about the topic. Book characters might go into the steps of putting on a mask or its importance to protect one’s health and those around them. Hearing and seeing these behaviors in a child-friendly format might resonate with your child, helping them better understand why mask-wearing is so important.

Don’t give up!

It will take time to get your child used to wearing a mask. Continue to employ these steps and your efforts will pay off. If your child is still having trouble after trying some of the advice above, you might consider a face shield. Although a mask is the best way to keep your child and others safe, a face shield is a good option for parents of kids who might be more sensitive to touch or having things touching their faces. In these cases, a shield can be a good introduction in teaching your child to wear a mask later on. 

Meanwhile, don’t forget to give yourself credit for everything you’re doing to support your family during such a challenging time. Good luck and be well!   

Rebecca Partridge

Rebecca Partridge, MD, is a Pediatrics specialist at Virginia Mason Issaquah Medical Center. Dr. Partridge is board-certified by the American Board of Pediatrics. Her medical interests includes general pediatrics, Down syndrome and emergency pediatrics.

Tips for Talking to Children About COVID-19

**By David Schneider, MD, FAAP**

The COVID-19 pandemic is taking over our news feeds, social media, conversations with friends and family—pretty much everywhere we look or listen, you will find a mention of COVID-19. It can be overwhelming for many of us. This is especially difficult for children, who may not have a true grasp on everything going on and who may even be confused due to the spread of misinformation. It is important that, as parents and guardians, we talk to children about our world’s current public health crisis to not only ease their concerns but also ensure they have tools to keep themselves healthy.

Below, I offer four strategies on how to talk to children about COVID-19 and ways to stay healthy.

Initiate the conversation

Chances are good that your child has already heard a lot of information about COVID-19 from friends or through social media. Rather than waiting for your child to come to you, start talking to them about what’s going on sooner rather than later.

Mom and child on computerListen to your child and ask questions

Gain an understanding of what they’ve heard and what they are worried about. Kids often misinterpret information or are more likely to believe inaccurate information.

Provide honest and accurate information

For younger kids, keep information simple and balance facts with reassurances that doctors and scientists are learning as much as they can about the new coronavirus so that we can keep them safe.

Older children may need help separating reality from rumors. High school students can discuss issues in a more adult-like way and should be referred directly to sources of factual information about the current status of COVID-19.

 Remain calm and give reassurance

Remember that kids look to adults for guidance on how to react in stressful situations, so be careful that your verbal and nonverbal cues do not increase their worry or anxiety.

For younger children, emphasize that their home is safe and that adults are there to take care of them if they get sick. Give simple examples of ways they can stay healthy, such as washing hands and sneezing or coughing into their sleeve.

For older children, knowledge can give a sense of control but can also cause more anxiety if they become fixated on seeking new information about COVID-19. Correct any inaccurate information or rumors that they hear. Teenagers may feel better when helping others, so discuss how their actions to protect themselves will also benefit society as a whole. You might give them the task of cleaning things that are commonly touched in the home.

In talking to your children, suggest ways they can stay healthy and strong, maintaining a routine even though their day-to-day might drastically change. Encourage activities or behaviors in children by not only talking about their importance but also modeling these behaviors yourself. Instilling these behaviors now will help your children remain safe from other illnesses, not just COVID-19.

    • Establish routine health precautions. Cough or sneeze into a tissue or your sleeve. Keep your hands off of your face. Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds (sing the ABC’s or the “Happy Birthday” song twice).
    • Limit screen time. Information on television, on the Internet or social media may cause increased anxiety and may not be accurate. Engage children in reading, games or other interesting activities.
    • Encourage reading. Reading will benefit their social and cognitive development, while providing a stress-relieving escape from external problems.
    • Keep up schoolwork. Encourage children to keep up with schoolwork or extracurricular activities to maintain as much of a normal routine as possible.
    • Skype with friends and family. Social distance to avoid getting sick and unintended doctor’s visits. Replace play dates with family time and maintain at least 6 feet from other children. Encourage virtual visits with grandparents or high-risk adults.
    • Eat a balanced diet. Encourage your child to eat a balanced diet, drink lots of water, get enough sleep and exercise regularly to keep their immune systems strong.
    • Keep things clean. Older kids can help clean things that are commonly touched, like doorknobs and light switches.

Don’t know where to begin? If you’re still feeling a little lost on starting to talk with your children about COVID-19, a number of organizations such as the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and the American Academy of Pediatrics offer additional resources to help have these conversations.

Dr David Schneider_2019David Schneider, MD, FAAP is board-certified in general pediatrics. He practices at Virginia Mason Bellevue Medical Center. Dr. Schneider specializes in pediatric and adolescent medicine, with special interests ranging from well child visits and sports-related injuries to LGBTQ health and mental health concerns around ADHD, depression and anxiety.

A version of this article also appeared in the Woodinville Weekly and 425 Magazine.