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COVID-19 Vaccine Q&A for Teens and Tweens

Wellness | June 3, 2021
Teen COVID-19 vaccine Q&A
Two PeaceHealth providers answer questions about COVID-19 vaccines for teens and "tweens."

Two PeaceHealth providers sat down with teenagers at a local high school in Ketchikan, Alaska, to talk about the COVID-19 vaccine. See what questions were asked to Drs. Vikram Bhagat and Tim Horton.

Q: Why is it important to get vaccinated against COVID-19?

A: Being vaccinated keeps you and your family safe. It can make small and larger group activities such as graduation parties and proms safer. And in certain instances, you won’t have to quarantine after traveling, including for sports.

Q: Will the COVID-19 vaccine be required for entering college?

A: Many vaccines are already required to attend colleges around the country. It is likely that vaccination against COVID-19 will also be required. Right now, it seems to depend on the college or university. However, for your own protection, especially if you plan to live in a residence hall or other shared space, it is good for you to be vaccinated. Being vaccinated also protects those around you when you travel to or from college.

Vaccinating a large population quickly will slow the progression of variants.

Q: How do we know when we are fully vaccinated?

A: According to the CDC, the COVID-19 vaccine trials have suggested that if you receive both doses of the Pfizer vaccine 21 days apart, you are considered fully vaccinated 14 days after your second dose. For Moderna if you receive both doses at least 28 days apart, you are considered fully vaccinated 14 days after your second dose. For the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine, you’re considered fully vaccinated 14 days after receiving the single dose.

Q: Why are the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines two doses instead of one?

A: To get the highest protection from an mRNA vaccine, it was identified that two doses separated by a period of time would get the best results. The immune system is primed after the first dose and ready to attack after the second.

Many of our most common vaccines require multiple doses, including most of your early childhood vaccinations. Think of it like a workout. To build muscle memory, you must work out more than once. Similarly, to get full efficacy of the vaccine, the first dose primes the body, but the memory cells need to get activated twice to really hold on to the memory of the coronavirus to combat it effectively.

Why two doses? The immune system is primed after the first dose and ready to attack after the second.

Q: Are the first dose and second dose chemically identical?

A: The first and second doses are exactly the same vaccine and dosage amount.

Q: While at the vaccine clinic for the first dose, can I schedule my second dose?

A: Yes. You will schedule your second dose when you receive your first. It is helpful for you to plan ahead for your second dose to ensure you are in town during the period of time when you would need to receive your second.

Q: I haven’t heard about mRNA before COVID-19. Is it new?

A: mRNA vaccines have been used for about 10 years and have been studied for decades. mRNA vaccines are being made for Ebola virus. It is an incredible technology to use for a fast response, especially during a pandemic. mRNA can be used to make most anything, and we expect to see this technology used for more routine things in the future.

mRNA vaccines have been used for about 10 years and have been studied for decades.

Q: I’m not sure if I should get the vaccine since it seems like the risk to younger people is low. Should I think about being vaccinated?

A: Risk level in the time of a pandemic is multi-faceted. We need to look at what our risk is of getting a severe case of the virus, but we also need to look at what the risk is of us spreading the virus to family and other vulnerable populations.

COVID-19 vaccines have been studied remarkably well. Thousands of people participated in clinical trials, and the vaccines have been found to be super safe and effective. While both the vaccine and contracting the virus gives you antibodies against the virus, the protections with getting the vaccine likely last longer than protections you may get from contracting the disease.

The benefits of vaccines far outweigh possible side effects. Contracting COVID-19 can cause inflammation of the heart and other long-haul, debilitating symptoms. Getting the virus contaminates you with a lot more of the disease that you can then spread to others, as well as increases your chance of getting severe symptoms from the virus. A known complication of coronavirus is heart issues that are irreparable. The COVID-19 vaccine protects you from bad stuff that can harm you long-term.

The benefits of vaccines far outweigh possible side effects.

Q: Can adolescents between the ages of 12-16 be vaccinated?

A: Yes, adolescents between the ages of 12-16 can now be vaccinated. The vaccine is remarkably effective and safe for this age group.

Q: Why are vaccines limited by age?

A: Limitations right now are due to who has been studied in the clinical trials. Adult vaccines came first because they are more likely to have serious complications from the virus and they can legally consent to be in clinical trials. Currently, clinical trials are underway for newborns up to children age 11. When children are involved in clinical trials, more safety and protection steps are needed. For instance, the child and both parents typically must agree to participate in the trial or study.

Q: Will we need vaccine boosters?

A: We are hearing about different variants of COVID-19 around the world. We know that they may continue to change. Current information shows many of the vaccines are providing protection against variants, but we are still learning about the long-term efficacy of the vaccine. The emerging variants are the things the world is worried about. Vaccinating a large population quickly will slow the progression of variants.

Q: What can be done if a 16-17-year-old student wants the vaccine, but the parents aren't supportive?

A: It is always best to get consent from your legal guardian. Your pediatrician or your family’s primary care provider is happy to discuss these concerns with your legal guardian. We also encourage you to discuss the issue with your family. Refer them to the CDC; tell them about the Q&A the pediatricians have provided. Washington, Oregon and Alaska offer some protections for minors to access medical treatment without legal guardian consent.

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