Pediatrician stresses importance of getting students vaccinated
PLATTSBURGH — Notebooks. Pencils. Folders. Vaccines?
As the delta variant of COVID-19 spreads, Hudson Headwaters Health Network pediatrician Dr. Michael Celotti says it’s critical that families of eligible school-age children consider getting them vaccinated against the coronavirus, in part because many pediatric patients are not currently authorized to receive it.
But in order to be fully vaccinated in time for the start of the new school year, most local students age 12 to 17 will need to get their first dose of the Pfizer vaccine by Tuesday, Aug. 3.
“This is a very serious infection that’s becoming a pediatric problem because we have the largest group that’s unvaccinated at this point,” Celotti, who has been a pediatrician for 17 years, said during a Zoom press conference this week.
“Whereas initially it looked to be that kids were somewhat shielded from this (the virus), now it seems to be that children are becoming more the target because they can’t have the vaccine yet.”
Final dose by Aug. 24
Most tri-county area school districts have their first day of school for students slated for Tuesday, Sept. 7.
Since it takes two weeks after the second Moderna or Pfizer dose, or sole dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, for someone to be “fully vaccinated,” that means final doses must take place by Tuesday, Aug. 24 in order for students to be protected right from the start of the school year.
As Pfizer doses need to be given 21 days apart, that makes Aug. 3 the deadline for most students’ first doses.
Celotti, who is based at the Moriah and Ticonderoga health centers in addition to University of Vermont Health Network, Elizabethtown Community Hospital, recommends that everyone age 12 or older get vaccinated.
He said he saw a higher demand for the Pfizer vaccine among his pediatric patients shortly after it was first authorized for the 12 and up age group in May.
“Then it lulled and we’re starting to see, in the last couple weeks, it pick back up again. This is region- and nationwide as well.”
Celotti believes more reports of the highly transmissible delta variant have grabbed people’s attention.
When he speaks with kids about getting vaccinated, Celotti focuses on social factors, telling them it is one way to help beat the pandemic and ensure they can participate in sports and get-togethers with friends.
Concerns he hears from parents and guardians include how the vaccines are being used under emergency use authorization and have yet to receive full approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
They also say the vaccines haven’t “been around long enough” and speculate on their safety.
Celotti works to overcome those worries by explaining the facts and encouraging families to do their research through reputable sources, not social media or websites not officially backed by science.
He points out to them that messenger RNA technology, utilized in the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, has been studied for a while, and explains that safety programs are in place to monitor vaccine side effects.
As an example, Celotti referenced how the FDA and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention temporarily paused administration of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine earlier this year after six people who had received it had severe, rare blood clots.
Studies on the long-term impacts of the vaccines cannot be rushed and are constantly being looked at, Celotti said.
“There has never been a vaccine that has been taken off the market for long-term safety concerns so we’re very confident that we’re not going to see that with these either.”
‘On the same side’
For the most part, parents who opt not to get vaccinated are not getting their kids vaccinated either, Celotti said.
“There are some that are giving their child the choice even if they refuse, which we applaud the parents for.”
He attributes success in convincing some families to get their children vaccinated to being open to their questions and concerns, not shutting the door on them.
“And I try to explain to the parents that we are both on the same side. We are looking out for the well-being of your child and that’s what ultimately they are as well.”
Celotti stressed both the safety and benefits of the vaccine, pointing to the millions of pediatric patients who have already received at least one dose with minimal or mild side effects.
“And then when you open it up to the whole population, we have over 330 million doses given very safely and the statistics also show that it reduces hospitalizations, it reduces serious illness and death from COVID.”