Northland pediatricians urge families to get children vaccinated for COVID-19

Kenlyn Thimm, 14, of Superior, will be the last in her family to get vaccinated, and she has avoided hugging her vaccinated grandparents out of an abundance of caution.

Molly McNamee, 14, of Duluth, is also the last one in her family to get vaccinated and can’t wait to hug her friends again.

“My closest friends haven’t hugged in over a year, so we’re all excited for when we finally get our shots to hug each other again and to feel safe doing that,” Molly said.

Kenlyn Thimm, 14, dribbles a tennis ball with her hockey stick outside her family’s home in Superior on Tuesday, May 18, 2021. (Jed Carlson / jcarlson@superiortelegram.com)

Kenlyn attends school in person only twice a week, Thursdays and Fridays. Not only is she excited to finally get vaccinated so she can feel safe, she recommends other students do, too, so next school year will look more normal.

“A lot of people my age aren’t very much at risk to have negative effects from COVID-19, but a lot of other people can be at risk because of you having COVID-19 and spreading it,” Kenlyn said.

And she’s right. Young people are less likely to have severe reactions to COVID-19, but they can have lasting effects, said St. Luke’s pediatrician Dr. Gretchen Karstens.

Dr. Gretchen Karstens

The COVID-19 vaccine has been proven to work very well in adolescents and it’s the best way to protect children, Karstens said.

“We can protect our children and they deserve it,” she said. “COVID has placed a huge burden on our children by keeping them more isolated and less able to participate in what we currently think of as the normal childhood and adolescence, and it’s resulted in really big achievement gaps in academics and increased rates of depression and anxiety.”

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the emergency use of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 12-15 last week. This approval gave vaccine eligibility to millions of more people in Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Pfizer is the only vaccine approved for people younger than 18, and it’s expected to be approved for kids 2-11 years old in time for school in the fall, and for ages 2 years and younger in late 2021.

“Vaccines are the way that we can get them back into actual classrooms instead of virtual classrooms and get them back on the field and back on the ice,” Karstens said.

Patsy Stinchfield

Patsy Stinchfield, Senior Director of Infection Prevention at Children’s Minnesota, said with the addition of children ages 12-15, 87% of the U.S. population is now eligible for a vaccine.

“This just couldn’t be at a better time because we’re really starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel to get us out of this pandemic, so it’s great news,” she said.

Stinchfield said it’s a myth that children and teens can’t get seriously ill from COVID-19. One disease in children and teens linked to COVID-19 is a multisystem inflammatory syndrome. MIS-C, in children, is a condition where different body parts can become inflamed, including the heart, lungs, kidneys, brain, skin, eyes or gastrointestinal organs.

“While it’s not very common, it can happen, and 1-2% can die of this,” Stinchfield said, adding that teenagers get it worse and can be in the intensive care unit and have heart attacks, brain bleeds and blood infections as a result of MIS-C.

“At Children’s Minnesota, just (two weeks ago) we had four teenagers in our intensive care unit really fighting for their lives from this disease, and if we have a safe and effective vaccine, as we do right now, to prevent that tragedy in your family, then why not get your kids vaccinated and keep them safe?” Stinchfield said.

Dr. Sharnell Valentine

Dr. Sharnell Valentine, a pediatrician at Essentia Health, said since the start of the pandemic, there have been hundreds of deaths from COVID-19 among youths, more than 13,000 pediatric hospitalizations and more than 3,600 cases of multisystem inflammatory syndrome in the U.S.

Valentine said adolescents who have had COVID-19 can have long-term heart effects, and they might need to see a cardiologist for the rest of their lives.

“Athletes who have had COVID-19 have to get checked and cleared with an (electrocardiogram) before returning to sports,” Valentine said.

Another reason people seem to be hesitant to receive the vaccine is because of how quickly it was developed. Stinchfield said, yes, it has been remarkable how fast the vaccines have been developed but can assure people that it hasn’t gone fast because corners were cut.

“Where we cut corners is in some of the red tape,” she said.

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is an mRNA vaccine, which is not new and has been carefully researched, evaluated and determined to be safe, Karstens said.

“When former President Donald Trump called for these vaccine efforts toward protecting our nation, there were multiple groups of scientists that came together to share resources and data, and that part is how we were able to get these so quickly,” she said.

Karstens uses a spring clearing analogy to explain it to people who are hesitant.

“If I spring clean my house by myself, I can get it done, it might take me a month to really do a good job,” she said. “But if I call over a team of experienced, hard-working house cleaners who are going to come, and we all work together, I can get it done in a couple of hours.”

Both Molly and Kenlyn received their first vaccine this week and will be fully vaccinated in five weeks.

“I’m looking forward to traveling again and being able to go on trips,” Kenlyn said.

Kenlyn Thimm, 14, works on assignments for school on her laptop outside her family’s home in Superior on Tuesday, May 18, 2021. (Jed Carlson / jcarlson@superiortelegram.com)

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