Lubbock Moms co-owners Lindsey and Chelsea were grateful for the opportunity to sit down with Dr. Jessica Gray of UMC Health Systems to get YOUR questions answered about COVID vaccines. We know this information will be helpful to Lubbock families as they make their decisions about vaccinating their children.
Dr. Jessica Gray is a board-certified Family Medicine physician in Lubbock, Texas. She did her undergraduate work at Texas Tech University, where she graduated with a major in biology in honors studies. She then went on to study at the Texas Tech Health Sciences Center School of Medicine, where she obtained her medical degree. She completed a residency at the Texas Tech Family Medicine residency program in Lubbock. She served as chief resident and won the Resident of the Year award and the Clinical Teaching Resident Award. Upon graduation, she joined the UMC Physicians group, where she currently works as a Family Medicine physician focusing on women’s and adolescent health.
Most importantly, she is a devoted wife to her college sweetheart and mom to a baby boy. She has two dogs, is a member of Westminster Presbyterian Church, and loves to travel in her spare time.
We’ve heard a number of people say that they think the vaccine will affect girls’ future fertility, and that is a reason that they don’t want to get their daughters vaccinated. Is there any truth to this?
Dr. Gray: This is a really common one that I’ve heard many, many times since the vaccine came out in both kids and adults as well. The good news is we have some really great data here regarding this. There are several different systems being used to monitor COVID vaccines, not just one system but multiple. They’re each making sure that we know about any short-term or long-term health effects. We know this from the monitoring that there’s no evidence at all of fertility problems caused by the COVID vaccines or any other vaccine at all. We also know that the ingredients of the COVID vaccines are broken down and eliminated from the body entirely within a few days. There is nothing in the vaccines that can interfere with fertility at all.
What are the short- and long-term possible effects of the COVID vaccine? How can you be absolutely certain that these vaccines are safe for children when we have such limited data on long-term effects?
Dr. Gray: Absolutely, this is a great question. Symptoms from a COVID infection can last much longer than the vaccine side effects. We know that the vaccine side effects are normally seen within six weeks. And there’s no evidence – and they’ve been looking for quite a while now – that the COVID vaccines or other childhood vaccines cause any long-term health effects. COVID vaccines are being carefully monitored just as any other vaccine is. So, we know if there are any short-term or long-term health effects. Because of this monitoring, we know that there’s a greater threat to children from the COVID infection than the potential risks from any vaccine side effects. Some kids have no side effects at all. And if they do, the most common is a sore arm and tiredness or headache that can last a few days. The CDC and American Academy of Pediatrics both recommend that all children eligible for COVID vaccine get one as soon as they’re able to. If you have questions about vaccine side effects, or if there’s any concern at all, please talk to your pediatrician, that person who knows your child the best besides you as their mama.
So if we can all still get COVID, including our children, what’s the reason that we think that vaccinations are the best path?
Dr. Gray: This is a great question because I talk about this with adults as well. Same thing applies in this situation. Vaccines do reduce your risk, your chance of becoming infected with COVID. But the biggest benefit is protection against the worst outcomes of COVID. They can help you and your children avoid getting very sick or needing hospitalization even if you do get COVID. In the most recent data that we have available, the vaccines were 74% effective at keeping kids 5 to 11 out of the hospital during the Omicron variant surge. We know COVID vaccines for children are safe and effective, again, because they’re being carefully monitored and that this is something that can really reduce the risk of long-term complications.
Can kids get another vaccine like the flu shot at the same time they get their COVID vaccine?
Dr. Gray: Great question. Part of this monitoring that we keep referencing that is done for COVID vaccines was to make sure that there’s not a problem if your kids need to get another vaccine. We also definitely recommend having a flu shot annually as well as any of your other pediatric vaccines that they need, according to their age. You can definitely get the COVID vaccine and the flu vaccine or any other vaccine that’s indicated by your pediatrician at the same time.
Is there any difference in the ingredients or dosing of the COVID vaccines for children versus older children versus adults?
Dr. Gray: So, a lot of medications, whenever we prescribe it to kiddos, we do it weight-based. That’s why your pediatrician will ask you how much does your child weigh, or they’ll go do a calculation on their calculator or try to do it in their head. And that’s why when you get a vial of penicillin or amoxicillin, it’s not the same dose every time. Your kid may be gaining weight. So this is different. The COVID vaccines are not done, the dosages are not done weight-based. They’re age-based and so not based on size or weight. Children ages five to 11 receive a smaller dose of the Pfizer vaccine that has been specifically tailored to that age range. It is the same active ingredient as the vaccine for teens and adults but just a slightly different formulation for them. Adolescents aged 12 and older receive the same Pfizer vaccine that adults do. COVID vaccines interact only with the immune system; they prompt the immune system to create antibodies that attack and kill the virus that causes COVID when it enters your body. Your immune system also creates memory cells, so it can identify and destroy the virus if you’re exposed to it at a future time. The ingredients in COVID vaccines for children and adults are broken down and again eliminated completely from the body within a few days. There’s no long-term effects on the DNA or anything else like that. While they may cause mild, temporary side effects like a sore arm or headache, they are not in the body for long enough to cause long-term health effects, like infertility, cancer; they don’t alter your DNA or anything like that at all.
Catch the full interview here: