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Q&A with Lakeland Regional Health: Teens and the COVID-19 Vaccine

COVID-19 Vaccine Teens

In Florida, 16 and 17-year-olds are now eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine*. While they might look like adults {and some are bigger and taller than us!} they are still our babies, and no matter their age, we continue to make parenting decisions to keep them safe and healthy.

*Editor’s Note – since publishing this article and interview in April 2021, as of May 12, 2021, ages 12 – 15 are also eligible to receive the COVID Vaccine. All information below is from our original conversation and has not been edited to reflect this change in age eligibility.

With so much information {and misinformation} floating around regarding the COVID vaccine, we know it feels daunting to figure out who you can trust as you make yet another decision for your kids. We are always looking for opportunities to share helpful resources with you from trusted local sources, especially when it impacts our community as a whole.

We asked for your questions regarding teens and the COVID-19 Vaccine, and then got answers from Dr. Hal Escowitz at Lakeland Regional Health. Dr. Escowitz is the Chief Quality Officer and Chief Medical Informatics Officer, and is also a practicing emergency physician.

Video Q&A

Can you give a brief overview of the COVID-19 vaccines?

Most people know there are 3 vaccines available, the two that are most alike are the Pfizer vaccine and the Moderna vaccine. With both of those you get an initial injection and then a booster injection (Pfizer is 21 days later and Moderna is 28 days later).

The third vaccine type is Johnson and Johnson, which we know has gotten a lot of press recently, it is a single injection vaccine and it has a different mechanism in the way it works. While Pfizer and Moderna use mRNA, J&J uses the DNA of a neutralized virus. (Click here to learn more about how COVID-19 Vaccines work).

Which vaccines can teens receive?

As of today (April 20, 2021) the only vaccine that is currently available for 16 and 17-year-olds is the Pfizer vaccine. Moderna is doing a number of trials in teens and younger age groups but has not yet received authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for ages under 18.

(Since this interview, as of May 12, 2021, ages 12 – 15 are also eligible to receive the COVID Vaccine.)

Is the dosage for teens different or the same as what adults are receiving?

The dosage for teens with the Pfizer vaccine is the same microgram dosage as the adult (18+) dose. I think it is felt that the physiology of a 16 or 17-year-old is the same as an adult so they use the same dosage.

We’ve heard over the past year that when children or teenagers get the virus, they don’t typically get as sick as adults or elderly people, and they don’t typically require hospitalization. Why do they still need to be vaccinated against COVID-19?

So there are a few reasons. The most important reason to get teens vaccinated is so they can’t transmit it to other people – their parents or their grandparents, other classmates that they’re with, teachers, people in the community who may have some underlying conditions, people they work with, people they encounter every day. Once someone is vaccinated, it is clearly being shown now that it is much more difficult to get or transmit COVID.

Teens are a very mobile population, 16, 17, and 18-year-olds are out all the time, they are with friends, they are at sporting activities, they’re very social.

If we are trying to achieve the concept of herd immunity – protecting the vulnerable and protecting each other from transmitting COVID, really burning this out and getting back to the life I know we all want – they are an important age group to make sure that we can decrease the spread.

Some kids actually have underlying conditions that can make them vulnerable to get quite sick with COVID-19. What we’re seeing now in Europe, with the variants that are popping up, is that some of these hospitalized groups actually appear to be skewed younger and younger as time goes on. We haven’t seen that here yet to the same degree, but it is concerning as COVID goes on. 

The other reason {for teens to be vaccinated} is we don’t know the long-term effects that COVID could have on your body. We do know with adults there’s a whole population called long haulers, some very healthy people who didn’t get very sick, but months and months out, many of them still have symptoms and many of them are struggling with lots of other COVID related issues as a result of getting the virus.

The primary way of preventing that is preventing getting the virus in the first place, and our best means of doing that is a vaccine.

What are the COVID vaccine side effects that you’re aware of?

The short-term side effects, especially with the Pfizer or Moderna two-dose regimen, is that after that first dose, just about everybody will complain that their arm hurts. Pain at the injection site is the number one complaint we get. Some people get some systemic effects after the first shot, maybe some fatigue they feel a little run down they don’t feel like themselves, headaches, things like that.

The second dose, however, not going to sugarcoat it, can make some people feel sick. We’ve seen muscle aches and extreme fatigue, body ache, nausea, headaches, fever. It has affected some people more than others. Side effects usually occur somewhere around 8-12 hours after the second shot, usually clear up within a day or two, and in general, it is very well tolerated. Although it can be unpleasant, it is a very small price to pay.

Some of our local parents have asked when younger children will be eligible for the vaccine. Do you think the age limit will be lowered at some point?

I know the Pfizer trials for the 12 to 15 age group have been submitted to the FDA and they’re reviewing it. I do not know what the timeline is for that to come out.

There are trials going on with all the companies in the younger age groups, I think they’re in stage one or stage two right now, and that usually takes some months to go through and ensure the safety and efficacy of the vaccine.

(Since this interview, as of May 12, 2021, ages 12 – 15 are now also eligible to receive the COVID Vaccine.)

For children, teens, or adults who have already had COVID, why do they need to be vaccinated?

We know that you can get re-infected, especially after that three-month mark your immunity starts to wane, and goes down to the point where eventually you have no detectable antibodies. Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson they were some of the first celebrities to get COVID, and they have said they no longer have antibodies, so we lose immunity over time.

The way the vaccine is designed, it appears to mount a stronger immune response than actually getting COVID itself.  So that’s another benefit.

It’s also a way of stretching your immunity out. So if you’ve been infected, you get that natural immunity and you can wait maybe around three months or so when the antibodies start to wane, and then you get an injection and you’re covered again for another 9 months, a year and a half… we aren’t sure yet how long the vaccine provides protection.

There is a rumor circulating that the vaccine causes people to be sterile or unable to have children. Can you address that rumor?

Well, what it is I know is it’s a rumor. One provider started this by going out on the internet and talking about a certain protein and the placenta and that people may be mounting an immune response against their placenta. None of that is either true or proven.

We’ve seen plenty of people who have received the vaccine that have gotten pregnant and plenty of people who have gotten COVID that have gotten pregnant so there’s no evidence to support that at all at this point.

For anyone who has an underlying health condition and is worried about getting the vaccine, who should they talk to?

I would call their health care provider and have a discussion with their personal physician. Most physicians appear to be fairly well informed on everything COVID-related and vaccine-related. If they have further questions, the CDC has an excellent website, there’s a body of the CDC that covers vaccinations and updates very frequently, there is a wealth of information there.

Do you have any suggestions for teens who are interested in the vaccine and want to talk to their parents about it, or parents who want to talk to their teenagers about getting the vaccine?

I think teens have access to the same information parents do now with social media and the internet. I think the best way to go about it is to have an honest, open dialogue and to make individual decisions based on what’s best for the family.

Please listen to reliable sources and not someone on Instagram or Tiktok who is telling stories for clickbait or attention. Often they’re not validated or grounded in anything real. Consult your physicians and listen to healthcare leaders in the community.

Anything else that you would like to share with the community regarding the COVID Vaccine?

It’s just such an important way to keep our community safe and going back to living the way we want to live again and winning this war on COVID. It’s been a very tough year for many people, but I think the vaccine is the answer.

Thank you to Dr. Escowitz for answering our questions!

Helpful Resources to find more information:

Centers for Disease Control – CDC COVID-19 Vaccine Website

Lakeland Regional Health COVID-19 Vaccine FAQ

How to Get the COVID-19 Vaccine for a Teenager or Preteen

The process of getting a COVID-19 Vaccine for a 12 to 17-year-old is similar to an adult with two additional requirements:

  1. At the date of publishing (April 20, 2021) teens can only receive the Pfizer vaccine, not the other two. Use the information below to find a location with the Pfizer Vaccine available.
  2. All individuals under the age of 18 receiving a vaccine must be accompanied by a parent or guardian and complete the COVID-19 vaccine screening and consent form.

How to Find a COVID-19 Vaccine Location

We have a separate article that lists all of the places to get a COVID Vaccine in Polk County:

More about Lakeland Regional Health: