South Carolina adolescents are next in line to get their COVID-19 vaccine, adding another potential challenge for parents to tackle: How to talk to their kids about getting the shot.
The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was approved at the federal level for use in kids ages 12-15, adding more than 190,000 South Carolinians to the state’s eligible population. The same brand has been approved for people 16 and older for months.
In South Carolina, nearly 80,000 COVID-19 cases have been reported in the age group 11-20, and while younger people are less likely to have severe illness from the coronavirus, public health experts maintain it’s important to get vaccinated against the virus.
Horry County has reached 29,277 COVID-19 cases and 448 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic. To date, the county has 120,567 vaccinated residents and remains one of the top counties in the state for its vaccination rate, according to the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control.
Doctors at the state and local levels in South Carolina gave tips to parents hoping to have a smooth vaccination experience with their kids.
Talk about it
Most kids will resist getting a shot of any kind. It hurts, and getting a needle jabbed in your arm isn’t any fun. But doctors across South Carolina urged parents to talk to their children not only about the process of getting the shot, but also the reasons behind it.
For kids ages 12-15, the pandemic has taken place during some of their most impactful years. They were there through the most intense moments of the last year, and it’s important to remind them that getting vaccinated is doing their part to put an end to the pandemic, according to Dr. Paul Richardson, chief medical officer at Conway Medical Center.
“By taking a vaccine, that little shot, that little needle in the skin, that child might be helping to get us out of this pandemic,” he said. “They’ll remember this forever ... They’ve lived this, the last year and let’s be honest, it wasn’t all that much fun.”
Lead by example
Having someone who has been vaccinated, like an older sibling, family member or friend, talk to the children about their experience. It’s best to be honest with them and give as much detail as possible, according to Dr. Brannon Traxler, public health director at DHEC.
Providing some of the details about the vaccination site and explaining that the best way to avoid pain is to stay calm and relaxed before getting the shot.
Think about summer fun
Summer is coming up, and with it comes all sorts of activities for kids. Most of them involve being around other kids, and that raises questions about the spread of the coronavirus. Parents should take a look at what types of recreation their child will take part in, not only this summer but beyond, and get them vaccinated to offer more protection, according to Dr. Lucretia Carter, pediatric medical director at Tidelands Health.
“Consider what the outlook of their child’s social environment is going to be,” she said. “Are they looking to be in summer camp? Are they looking to do group activities, both indoor and outdoor? Are they wanting to protect them in those activities?”
Dr. Jane Kelly, assistant state epidemiologist at DHEC, also pointed out that vaccinated people don’t have to quarantine if they’re exposed to COVID-19, meaning getting vaccinated could decrease chances of missing fun social activities.
Remember, it only takes a second
Most kids in this age group have gotten vaccines before, and they know it’ll hurt. But remind them that it’ll be over soon.
“It may sting,” Traxler said. “But it will be very brief. Remind them about the purpose of the vaccine, that it’s really helping to protect their health as well as [the health of others.]
Even potential side effects like a fever or body aches generally only last 24 hours, and very rarely persist past 48 hours, Traxler said.
Be prepared for possible side effects
Everyone’s body responds differently to getting a shot, and it’s possible some effects will follow the shot. It’s best to be prepared for those and know what might be coming. It’s also important to remember side effects are natural and expected. It could help to explain to teens that the side effects are signs that the body is building protection against the virus, though a lack of side effects doesn’t mean the vaccine isn’t doing its job.
Keeping Tylenol or another form of acetaminophen on hand may be helpful to curb some of the discomfort, but only if the child’s primary care doctor hasn’t advised against it. The side effects, if present, generally only last 24-48 hours.
Don’t forget about the parental sign-off
Each vaccine provider will be responsible for having their consent forms created and available to parents, Traxler said. Parents don’t need to be present with their child while they receive the vaccine, but the form needs to be signed.
The consent forms will likely include information about the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s emergency use authorization.