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Should parents worry about COVID-19 vaccine-related myocarditis in kids?

Dr. Ashish Jha emphasized that the vaccines are safe and will help schools return to normal.

On Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officially recommended Pfizer-BioNTech's coronavirus vaccine for children aged 5 to 11, clearing the way for pediatric vaccinations to begin.

However, just 27% of parents say they're currently planning to vaccinate their young children, according to a recent survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation. About 33% of parents said they would take a "wait and see" approach to the vaccine, while 30% said they would "definitely not" vaccinate their children. Another small group said they would only vaccinate their young children if they were required to do so.

Experts have emphasized that the vaccine is safe and effective, and is key to helping the country recover from the pandemic. The CDC unanimously voted in support of the pediatric vaccine.

"I think it's great for kids, it offers that protection we've been waiting for," said Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of Brown University's School of Public Health. "It also means that every school-aged kid in America is now going to be eligible for a vaccine. That really has a profound effect on schools. ... We're going to have fewer quarantines. Schools are going to get back to the more normal we've been waiting for. This is really important."

What should parents know about the risk of myocarditis?

Jha took a moment to address concerns about myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle. The condition was reported in some boys and young men, under the age of 30, who received two doses of an mRNA coronavirus vaccine, like Pfizer's, but the side effect is extremely rare and was not reported in the younger age group.

"Myocarditis in vaccinated older boys, young men, does happen. We haven’t seen it in 5-11 year olds," Jha said. "It’s incredibly rare. Thankfully every case we’ve seen has resolved and people have gotten better."

According to the CDC, there have been 877 cases of vaccine-induced myocarditis out of more than 192 million Americans vaccinated. Dr. Matthew Oster, a pediatric cardiologist at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, said during a presentation to the CDC on Tuesday that vaccine-induced myocarditis tends to return to normal heart function more quickly than those who have "classic" myocarditis, NBC News reported. "Classic" myocarditis can be caused by things like viral or bacterial infections. Jha noted that COVID-19 itself is far more likely to cause "classic" myocarditis, which is "incredibly dangerous."

"If you're comparing the vaccine to COVID, vaccines are much safer," Jha said. "... The risk from COVID is much greater than any risk from the vaccine and given that this virus is going to be around for a long time, it's really important that we protect kids. We have a lot of vaccines to protect kids. This is the most studied vaccine we have."

Can your child get too much of the vaccine?

“The clinical trials have shown that the benefit and the side effects to 5- and 11-year-olds are actually comparable even though they are going to be pretty different in sizes,” Jha said. “If you have a particularly small 12-year-old or a particularly large 11-year-old, talk to your pediatrician about this. The recommendations are staying with your age group, but you can always have that conversation with your doctor and sort out what’s the best path for you.”

Pfizer had previously reported the vaccine caused similar side effects in young kids to those seen in adults, which include arm soreness and fatigue.

When will kids 2 to 4 be eligible for the vaccine?

This is “probably a couple of months away, we’ll see when the data comes in,” explained Jha.

Jha emphasized that any parent who is hesitant or unsure about vaccinating their child talk to their pediatrician, noting that he is planning to get his 9-year-old son vaccinated "as soon as my pediatrician can squeeze him in."

"At the end of the day, you want to get advice from the people who take care of your kids," Jha said.