Advise Me

Why Your 16- or 17-Year-Old Should Get the COVID-19 Vaccine

You might not see the value in vaccinating your 16- or 17-year-old child against COVID-19 infection. After all, young people tend to have few or no symptoms if they get the disease. And they aren’t as likely as older people to be hospitalized or to die from COVID-19 infection.

But it’s critically important for 16- and 17-year-olds to be vaccinated now, and for younger children and teens to be vaccinated once they are eligible. Ayrn O’Connor, MD, a medical toxicologist at Banner - University Medical Center Phoenix, spells out three key reasons it’s important for 16- and 17-year-olds to be vaccinated.

1. Vaccines protect teens from a potentially dangerous COVID-19 infection

Low risk of infection doesn’t mean no risk. Almost 10% of COVID-19 cases in the U.S. occur in people age 5 to 17. That’s 2.3 million children and teenagers. Deaths are uncommon in this age group, but they do occur. And teens are at risk for multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C), a rare but serious complication of COVID-19 that can be fatal.

2. Vaccinating teens brings us all closer to herd immunity

“Teenagers are very important as far as spread is concerned,” Dr. O’Connor said. “Vaccinating them helps protect the general population.” We need approximately 80-85% of people either vaccinated or immune from previous infection of COVID-19 to reach herd immunity.

People under age 18 make up 24% of the U.S. population, so we can’t reach herd immunity without vaccinating young people. And teenagers often have asymptomatic infections, or they have mild symptoms, so they continue living their lives normally and they spread the virus to others.

Reaching herd immunity means we can return to life more like that before the pandemic. But until then, we must continue to use the mitigation techniques we know to be effective such as masking, social distancing and limiting the size of gatherings.

3. Widespread vaccinations help combat mutations and variants in the coronavirus

When coronavirus infections are widespread, it’s more likely new mutations will crop up and more contagious and more deadly variants may spread. “That unchecked spread allows it to elude our defense mechanisms. That’s why surges are so dangerous,” Dr. O’Connor said. Vaccinating teens can help stop the spread and reduce the likelihood of new strains emerging.

How can I get my 16- or 17-year-old vaccinated?

First, you need to find out if your teenager is eligible for a vaccine in your state. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website can connect you to your state health department. In some states 16- and 17-year-olds are eligible now.

Next, you need to find a location where they can receive the Pfizer vaccine. As of now (April 7, 2021), that is the only vaccine authorized for emergency use in 16- and 17-year-olds.

How do I know vaccines are safe for my 16- or 17-year-old?

A lot of people worry that pharmaceutical companies or the government sacrificed safety for speed, since the vaccines were rolled out so quickly. But Dr. O’Connor said that’s not the case.

“The pharmaceutical and biotech industries focused their efforts on this global threat, and a lot of money and resources were directed to fighting this disease,” she said. “They compressed the timeline, but they didn’t cut any corners. No one in public health wants to take millions of otherwise healthy people and give them vaccines that make them sick.” When it comes to vaccines, the bar for safety is set very high.

How do I convince my teen to get vaccinated?

If your teen is hesitant, ask why. That way you can address their concerns:

  • If they’re worried about side effects, assure them that things like a sore arm, fatigue, headache and muscle aches are expected and should pass within 72 hours.
  • If they don’t feel it’s necessary to be vaccinated because they are at low risk, remind them that they could get sick, and that it’s important for them to do their part to help protect everyone.
  • If they think the vaccine might not be safe, remind them that there’s been extensive testing and research behind the vaccine development and rollout.

The bottom line

Teens who are eligible now should be vaccinated against COVID-19, and everyone should get the vaccine as soon as they can. “As a parent and as a doctor, my 9-year-old and 11-year-old would be vaccinated tomorrow if they could be,” Dr. O’Connor said. Vaccination keeps us from getting sick and brings us closer to ending this pandemic.

Here’s more information about the COVID-19 vaccines:

Children's Health COVID-19 Infectious Disease Parenting

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