JoCo on the Go Podcast: Pediatric COVID-19 vaccines for children 6 months and older

On JoCo on the Go, episode #139, we’re discussing the latest group of residents now eligible for COVID-19 vaccines. In June, federal public health officials provided emergency use authorization for children 6 months and older to be vaccinated against the virus. Johnson County Department of Health and Environment Director Dr. Sanmi Areola provides the latest on the safety and efficacy of the vaccine. Also, hear from local parents of young children on why they are getting their little ones vaccinated.

JoCo on the Go Webcast: Pediatric Vaccines

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Time Subject
00:26 Introduction
00:54 Developing the COVID-19 vaccine for children
02:58 What parents need to know about this vaccine
07:57 Hearing from parents who got their children vaccinated
09:44 Why should you get your children vaccinated?
13:14 The vaccine's effectiveness against new variants
16:58 How do you get the vaccine?


Theresa Freed 0:00 

Children six months and older are now eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine. On this episode, hear from our public health expert and local parents as we discuss this new age group and the protection from the virus.

Announcer 0:13 

Whether you live in or just love Johnson County, Kansas, JoCo on the Go has everything Johnson County. Here's what's happening and what's coming up in the community you call home.

Theresa Freed 0:26 

Thanks for joining us for JoCo on the Go. I'm your host Theresa Freed, a Johnson County resident and employee of Johnson County Government. In June, federal public health officials authorized emergency use of COVID-19 vaccines for some of our youngest residents, and parents are now taking advantage of this extra layer of protection for their little ones. Here to talk more about that as Johnson County Department of Health and Environment Director, Dr. Sanmi Areola. Thanks for joining us.

Dr. Sanmi Areola 0:52 

Thank you for having me, Theresa.

Theresa Freed 0:54 

Alright. Well, it's taken, it seems like a while to kind of get to this point. But young children are now getting vaccinated. So can you talk about all that work and research that went into getting to this point?

Dr. Sanmi Areola 1:08 

One of the things that we have been looking forward to is to find a way to protect younger, youngest residents. And this has been in the works for a while, obviously, since late 2020, when we had our first set of vaccines. The vaccines have been by far the most important tool in our fight against the serious consequences of infection of the virus that causes COVID-19. And we have done a good job in our county, vaccinating older residents, having vaccination rates really way higher than the state average and higher than the national average, having the highest vaccination rates in the state. However, we have been until now unable to get approval for vaccines for those that are five or younger. And so it's exciting times, it's really good development that the FDA and the CDC and the advisory councils approve these vaccines. Now we have that tool available to us, for our residents who are six months to four year olds who can be protected. And the parents can feel more comfortable when they send them to camps in the summer months, they can feel more comfortable where they send them to childcare settings, because what we continue to know about the vaccine is that they remain robust, incredibly efficient in protecting us against the severe consequences of infections from the virus that causes COVID-19. So these are exciting times I think.

Theresa Freed 2:58 

Alright, so I think I'm kind of a perfect example of our typical parents in some of the concerns that they have. So, you know, I've got three kids now. I've got a 10 year old, a four year old and a newborn. So my 10 year old is vaccinated, and my four year old is now eligible. And so my baby is not quite eligible still. So we're thinking about getting getting our four year old vaccinated, so kind of sell it to me, what do parents need to know about the safety of this vaccine?

Dr. Sanmi Areola 3:30 

So the process for getting vaccines to the market is pretty well defined. We're not just looking at the efficacy, in which case, because we've given this to millions of people, five years and older, in the country and across the world. We're also looking at the safety. So all of those are evaluated robustly through clinical trials and ongoing safety monitoring. And so these are really some of the most stringent processes around the world that we have in the United States. So these vaccines right now, with giving it to hundreds of millions of people, they continue to prove very effective. We continue to do safety monitoring, and it's really pretty clear that the benefits in terms of reducing the risk associated with infections of the virus that causes causes COVID-19 compared to the extremely low risk of some of the rare things that could happen from the vaccine, the benefits by far outweigh the risk. And so the recommendation, obviously, we're always telling parents to consult with your pediatrician, and that's where you get your vaccines from. If you have questions, they will be very happy to answer them, but we don't typically get opportunity to have this many people get the vaccine over a short period of time that allow us to not only prove the efficacy, but prove the safety. And we have a lot of data for that.

Theresa Freed 5:14 

And so the dosing itself, that's adjusted for the smaller children, I would assume? Do they also follow that same sort of schedule where you get the first vaccine, and then you follow up a few weeks later and get that second shot?

Dr. Sanmi Areola 5:28 

Yeah, so we have two types of vaccines here. We have the vaccine from Pfizer-BioNTech, for those that are six months to four year olds, which is a three-dose primary series. And then for five to 70 year olds is a two-dose primary series. But we also have the Moderna, which is for six months to four year olds, is a two-dose primary series, and for five to 14 year olds, it's also a two-dose primary series. Now for the Pfizer, for those that are five years and older, the two-dose primary series, given three to eight weeks apart. Of course, if you are moderately or severely immunocompromised, or have a weakened immune system, you should get a third dose about four weeks after the second dose of the primary series. For those that are six months to four year olds, it's a three-dose series, like I've said. The first two doses are separated by three to eight weeks. The second and third doses are separated by eight weeks, at least eight weeks. So again, that's what the Pfizer, the Moderna that I said is a two-dose series. And the two-dose primary series for those that are 18 years or older, we want the first two doses to be given four to eight weeks apart. People that are moderately or severely immunocompromised or have a weakened immune system should get a third dose, and the first two doses for them should be separated by four weeks, and the second and third doses separated by at least four weeks. For children six months to 70 years of age is also a two-dose Moderna series that are given four to eight weeks apart. Again, for those that are moderately to severely immunocompromised, or have weakened immune systems, they should get a third dose with the first two doses separated by four weeks. And the second and third dose is separated by at least four weeks. Fairly complicated, much more complicated than before, which is why you can consult with us, or consult with your primary care physician to ensure that based on your age, you have the right separation, and you're good. And based on your medical condition, you're getting the right number of doses.

Theresa Freed 7:57 

That makes sense. And I know that we're encouraging parents to take their children to their pediatricians to get those COVID-19 vaccines. But we are starting to see people come through the JCDHE clinics as well. And so we did get a chance to catch up with some parents who are getting their young children vaccinated. And here's what they had to say.

Mother 1 8:16 

I am a healthcare professional. And so I have, I didn't have to work nearly in the ICUs during the major surge of the pandemic. But I had a lot of friends that did, and I just think it's very important that we all play our part. And part of getting back to normal life is getting them vaccinated. So she gets all her other vaccines. And they were really smooth, it was fast and quick and easy, really professional, had a great flow to the day. I would recommend doing your research and making sure that you feel confident in your choices. But also making sure that you're getting accurate information is vital. So utilizing your public health, those different organizations, your national organizations to get information about the vaccine is very important. But I would also really encourage getting it. It's helping them get back to their normal life. And it's another thing that we can do to just protect each other.

Mother 2 9:05 

I have an almost two year old and an almost four year old.

Interviewer 9:07 

And why did you decide to get them the COVID-19 vaccine?

Mother 2 9:10 

Because I want to help protect them. I got my shots last year, and we've been waiting and waiting to help get them the protection that have been that they need so they can go out and live their own lives too.

Interviewer 9:19 

What would you tell other parents who are kind of on the fence about getting them vaccinated?

Mother 2 9:23 

It's a big decision, but it's the right decision to help protect your kids and other kids too. There's kids that truly can't get vaccinated. So we need to help protect them and help protect your own children from severe disease or lifelong complications of getting COVID. I definitely feel that the vaccine is, with the risk and the benefits, the benefits definitely outweigh the risk of it.

Theresa Freed 9:44 

You know, my next question is we tend to hear that young children tend to experience more mild symptoms. We're not seeing the same rate of hospitalizations as older adults and, you know, middle aged residents. So why should people get their children vaccinated?

Dr. Sanmi Areola 10:04 

Excellent question. Children, we have seen several cases, have been hospitalized. And they have gotten really sick from infections from the virus that causes COVID-19. And unfortunately, some have died. And so, as I've said before, the vaccination has proven over time to protect against the more serious illnesses caused by the virus. It protects against hospitalization, and robustly protects against death. Children also do get very sick from COVID-19. They have both short- and long-term effects. They are also able to spread COVID-19 to others. We have seen cases of MIS-C, the motor system inflammatory syndrome in children. We see a lot more of that the children ages five to 11 year olds, we see a lot of, much higher, greater than 90% of those occurring in children that are not vaccinated. So again, while children may not be as susceptible as older adults, especially those with weakened immune systems or are immunocompromised, children have been sick, children have been hospitalized and children have died from COVID-19. Having this vaccine that has been shown to be very effective, and shown to be very safe is a big tool at our disposal. Now to minimize the impact of things that we still don't know about the COVID. We talked about long COVID. The long-term consequences are not completely well elicited, elucidated or completely understood. So we know the vaccines work. Get your child protected so you have peace of mind when they are participating in activities, when they're in schools, when they're in childcare settings.

Theresa Freed 12:09 

And so I know there is a long list of variants since we originally first heard about COVID-19. So the vaccines that they're developing, are they constantly changing that, I guess, formula so that it can adapt to those new variants?

Dr. Sanmi Areola 12:26 

So right now, there is conversation, and there's work going on to look into a formulation that could be more targeted towards the circulating Omicron and the subvariants. But the vaccine that we have now continues to elicit very robust antibody response in the body and continues to be very effective in protecting us against severe illnesses, and hospitalizations and deaths. But we're continuing to work, scientists are continuing to look for ways to to improve the effectiveness against new variants and subvariants.

Theresa Freed 13:14 

So are the new variants that we're seeing emerge, are they weaker than the original one? Because it seems like, you know, I've had COVID, twice now. The original COVID, which resulted in me having some long hauler symptoms of the altered sense of taste and smell. I got it again in February when I was pregnant, and that was scary, too. But it didn't hit me quite as hard it seems like. And I know you're not a medical doctor to speak to my symptoms and things like that. But if you can talk about, you know, what are we seeing with with these variants?

Dr. Sanmi Areola 13:49 

Right, so we haven't seen a big change in terms of the variants causing more severe illnesses. We have seen changes in terms of the variants being more infectious. Early on, you mentioned loss of taste. That was more common with the wide type, the original variant that we saw. That does not seem to be quite a common symptom with the Omicron species. But largely, most of the symptoms remain the same. The other factor though, is that you are vaccinated and people are vaccinated, which lessens the severity of the symptoms for the most part. Most people either have no symptoms or have very mild symptoms. But it's also true that you gain some natural immunity, albeit it wanes over time from infection. So all of those are worked into our advantage, having a high vaccination rate, quite a lot of us have been infected or infected over time. And those do provide some advantages in terms of minimizing the severity of the symptoms that we see.

Theresa Freed 15:13 

And I know this is a question we ask all the time. And we never really have, you know, full answer because we can't predict the future. But is COVID something that's going to just always be with us, or is it something that you foresee us eventually saying goodbye to?

Dr. Sanmi Areola 15:29 

The COVID virus is here. I think the general consensus is it's going to be with us. And we have more tools, we have more resources, we've got, of course, the vaccine, we've got monoclonal antibodies, we have preinfection tools, post-infection tools that we can use to minimize the severity, additional tweaks that's going on with the vaccines that are available. And given the decisions that we have made as a society and as a community, given the fact that outside of vaccination and individual choices as to whether you wear a mask and where you go, given the fact that we largely have resumed life, the way we used to live it pre-COVID. It is harder to see a path towards eliminating the virus. But again, the good news is we have more tools, and we can clearly see a path towards minimizing the more severe illnesses and the more adverse consequences of the virus. Again, some of what we don't know, the long-term consequences of infection. So we'll continue to study those as we move forward.

Theresa Freed 16:58 

Alright, and just back to the topic at hand, talking about these younger children who are now eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine. How can parents get their kids vaccinated? Again, we've reiterated that, you know, the pediatrician is probably the best place to go to get that. But how does somebody get the vaccine?

Dr. Sanmi Areola 17:19 

The primary recommendation is to go get the vaccines where you get your other vaccines from. It is best to go to your pediatrician to do that, of course. We have our clinics open, you can come to our clinics. But again, given the younger population and what it takes to vaccinate, the mass vaccination clinic is not equipped to handle many, or high throughput, like we did for adults. So again, just like we did at the start of the pandemic, where we were giving our vaccines at our clinics, but we were also working with our health systems, our hospitals to give out the vaccine, which I believe is part of why we got to the high vaccination rate as a county. Because people already have relationships with their doctors, they already have relationships with their pediatricians. Pediatricians are best positioned to answer questions that you may have. They have the full history of your child. Still that is our primary recommendation. Go to your pediatrician. Of course, pharmacists also have, some of them may be still trying to develop the resources to vaccinate this age group. But unlike when we started, there's just a lot more options for you to get the vaccine. My primary recommendation is go to your pediatrician. That's the best route to take.

Theresa Freed 18:54 

Alright, that sounds good. And of course, you can always get much more information about how to get those vaccines and testing kits and all kinds of great information about COVID-19 in Johnson County by going to our website at Again, thank you for being here with all this great information. I know that the conversation will continue as as the virus continues to be present in our community, and hopefully someday we can say goodbye to it. We're just not there yet, right?

Dr. Sanmi Areola 19:22 

We're not quite there yet. But thank you for the referral for the time.

Announcer 19:26 

You just heard JoCo on the Go. Join us next time for more everything Johnson County. Have a topic you want to discuss? We want to hear from you. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter at jocogov. For more on this podcast, visit Thanks for listening.

Health and Environment