Paediatric doctors working in west London have sought to reassure parents unsure about vaccinating their children that they should have them vaccinated.
NHS North West London hosted an online discussion on Wednesday, 26 January for young people, parents, guardians, carers, teachers and school nurses to provide information about the vaccine and immunisation programme.
The panel included consultant paediatricians Dr Liz Whittaker and GP Dr Hermione Lyall, as well as a parent whose daughter, who was not clinically vulnerable, had suffered from a severe Covid infection which resulted in her hospitalisation. The session also included questions from the public around potential side effects from vaccination.
The hour-long webinar began with Dr Whittaker presenting Covid-infection, serious illness and death data among young children. She highlighted that England had some of the best data in the world showing how many children were admitted to hospital with Covid-19. Out of 11 million children in England, 3.6 million who were estimated to have tested positive, 5,830 were hospitalised and 251 went to the Paediatric ICU.
Almost 700 children were admitted with PIMS-TS, a rare inflammatory condition brought on in children post-infection, and of these children 309 were sent to Paediatric ICU.
Dr Whittaker said children from non-white backgrounds and those with chronic illnesses were more likely to end up in intensive care as a result of catching Covid.. Though admitting only a “tiny proportion” of children out of the whole population are admitted to hospital because of Covid, she stressed preventing these admissions through vaccination would be “fabulous”.
Images above: a child suffering from PIMS-TS, a post-Covid infection long-term illness
Vaccine reduces risk of infection illness PIMS-TS
Dr Whittaker elaborated on the side affects of PIMS-TS, symptoms of the illness can present as red rashes on the surface of the skin, bloodshot eyes, a cough, vomiting, abdominal pain, sore throat, headaches and diarrhoea.
Citing vaccination data from the American Centre for Disease Control (CDC), Dr Whittaker highlighted how between July and December 2021, vaccination reduced the likelihood of 12-18 year olds developing PIMS-TS by 91%. The same CDC data revealed that 95% of adolescents hospitalised with with PIMS-TS were unvaccinated and no vaccinated patients who were admitted needed life support.
The CDC data summarised that vaccination was the best protection against PIMS-TS.
Further data presented by Dr Whittaker showed vaccination largely prevented the development of long Covid in adults, though there was no accompanying data presented for adolescents.
Image above: Anna Down and her daughter Alex
“Athletic” child who swam regularly hospitalised with Covid
The session included GP Anna Down and her daughter Alex sharing their experiences after Alex was hospitalised with Covid.
Despite being in none of the risk categories, Alex caught Covid in September 2021 as part of a big outbreak at school where over half of her year tested positive with the illness.
While a “big proportion” of those children were unwell and missed several days of school, Alex was admitted to hospital eight or nine days after being infected and subsequently to intensive care where they met Dr Whittaker. Alex had “significant Covid infection” and spent over a week in hospital, not making it back to school properly until January 2022.
“By way of background, she’s a competitive swimmer, she’s the fittest person we all know and has no underlying health conditions. It’s great she’s back to where she was and back to competing in terms of swimming. But it was a pretty tough few months and a tough time in hospital.”
Alex said she was frustrated she and her friends hadn’t been given the option to get vaccinated sooner, wishing she could have avoided the ordeal entirely. Following the guidance, Alex was vaccinated 12 weeks after infection as soon as she was eligible.
Image above: a graphic taken from BBC news used in NHS presentation
Benefits vs risks
Dr Whittaker went on to discuss the benefits and risks of vaccinating children.
Per 1 million first doses, two intensive care admissions are prevented and 87 hospital admissions are prevented. Per one million second doses a minor increase of 0.16 intensive care admissions are prevented and six hospital admissions are prevented.
Vaccine risks include up to 34 cases of myocarditis per million doses. Myocarditis is a rare heart inflammation side effect associated more-so with the Pfizer vaccine.
Myocarditis presents itself as mild chest pain and breathlessness and young people who are unlucky enough suffer from it. Dr Whittaker noted that children tend not to be in hospital for very long should and are often prescribed ibuprofen and discharged. As a precaution doctors also recommend no vigorous exercise for up to three months.
The second highest risk group, as reported in American data, was 12-15 year old males who had a 45.7 out of 37 million chance of reporting a case of myocarditis. While stressing she did not want to diminish the cases of illness as reported in American data, Dr Whittaker said the risk of contracting Covid and its associated complications was much higher than those associated with vaccination.
She added vaccination is a way for many to return to “normal life” as well as be increase confidence among families with vaccinated children as they would have an extra layer of protection with the additional benefit of decreased risk of infection and transmission.
Parents were concerned about fertility
Parents attending the webinar quizzed the doctors about their concerns about the affect the vaccine could have on fertility.
Giving only her first name, Eve asked:
‘Has sufficient research been done on the impact on hormonal development and fertility with respect to vaccinating 12 yr old girls?’
To which Dr Whittaker replied:
“Obviously this is a huge concern for many people. There has been lots of anecdotal data about the impact of vaccines on periods, and people having bigger gaps between their periods, there’s the natural conclusion that might have an impact on fertility. I think as well the fact it’s called an MRA vaccine, it sounds like DNA, that itself can cause a lot of worries about impact on fertility.
“The UK Obstetric Surveillance System and the Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology have been doing research into this because it is obviously hugely important to understand. We know that many things can influence your periods, including being unwell, having infections, being stressed. We’re human and those things affect our hormones.
“But they haven’t seen any evidence, from this vaccine or any other vaccine, that causes an impact on fertility to date. There is not biological plausability as to how that would happen either. You can’t scientifically explain how the vaccine would impact on fertility, but you can explain how it would impact on your periods because we are human and we respond to things like that.”
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