Area pediatricians answer questions about children and coronavirus vaccines, masks

Masks are safe for children to wear and the benefits of the coronavirus vaccines far outweigh the risks for children, according to local pediatricians.

Readers continue to have questions about the coronavirus pandemic, including many questions related to children. So the Dayton Daily News assembled a panel of trusted local experts, including doctors and pharmacists, to answer your questions and make sure you have the best information. Here are some of the questions we’ve received from readers in recent weeks about children.

Local experts quoted in this article are:

  • Dr. Michael Klatte, chief of infectious disease at Dayton Children’s Hospital.
  • Dr. Alonzo Patterson III, pediatrician with PriMed Physicians.

Other experts on our panel for this project are:

  • Gregory Braylock, RPh, pharmacy manager at Zik’s Family Pharmacy in Dayton.
  • Dr. Roberto Colón, chief medical officer at Premier Health’s Miami Valley Hospital.
  • Dr. Nancy Pook, Kettering Health Emergency Medical Director.

Q: Can wearing a mask make it harder for my child to breathe? What if they have asthma or another medical condition?

Klatte: Wearing a face mask can sometimes cause a feeling of claustrophobia. However, numerous medical studies have shown that wearing a mask doesn’t decrease a person’s oxygen levels. Mask wearing also doesn’t increase carbon dioxide levels in the air being breathed in by the person wearing the mask. Carbon dioxide molecules are much smaller than infected droplets from someone with the COVID virus, and because of this those carbon dioxide molecules pass easily through most cloth masks. Children with asthma can and should wear face masks, as there is no medical evidence to suggest that wearing a face mask could worsen a child’s asthma.

Certain select groups of children should not wear masks. These groups include children under the age of 2 years and children who are unable to remove their masks without assistance.

Patterson: Professionals in health care, cabinet making and landscaping have worn masks for prolonged periods of time for decades, long before the COVID-19 pandemic started in 2019. People with immunocompromising conditions have effectively guarded against the germs of others by wearing masks in public places before mask wearing became a political hot potato. Have we ever wondered if the surgeon, nurse or anesthesiologist in the operating room for hours performing our mother’s cardiac bypass or removing our child’s cancer couldn’t breathe? I’ve seen children surviving with cancer and cystic fibrosis, a lung disease far more severe than asthma, laughingly play with masks properly worn over their nose and mouth, without suffering the effects of elevated carbon monoxide levels but able to enjoy the precious blessings of life interacting with friends and family while protecting themselves and others. Multiple scientific studies and experience has confirmed that wearing masks properly prevents the transmission of several diseases, allows us to effectively get oxygen into our bodies and carbon dioxide out, and more importantly, helps us stay as healthy as we can in our schools and throughout our communities.



Q: Is the vaccine safe for my child and are the benefits really greater than the risks?

Klatte: Yes, the vaccine is safe for your child. COVID vaccines have been rigorously researched, tested and evaluated for safety and effectiveness prior to being made available to the public. The safety monitoring of these vaccines has been unparalleled compared to all prior vaccines in our country’s history. As I’m not only a pediatrician, but also a parent, I’m aware that children are our most precious gifts. We want to do everything we can as parents to protect our children and keep them safe. This is precisely why my child has been vaccinated — because the benefits really are infinitely greater than the risks. I’ve seen firsthand way too many pre-teens and adolescents hospitalized with COVID-19 infection whose hospitalizations might very well have been avoided by vaccination. Unfortunately, these hospitalizations have been continuing to increase every day during the past month.

Patterson: The CDC estimates in 12- to 17-year-old females, every 1 million second doses of COVID-19 vaccine could prevent 8,500 infections, 183 hospitalizations and one death. Every 1 million second doses of COVID-19 vaccine would prevent 5,700 infections, 215 hospitalizations and two deaths in 12- to 17-year-old males. I agree with the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Advisory Council on Immunization Practices, the WHO Global Advisory Committee on Vaccine Safety and the CDC’s conclusion that the benefits of vaccination far outweigh the risks and that COVID-19 vaccines are safe to give children 12 and older. I continue to encourage patients in my practice to understand the facts and make an informed decision to protect their family every way that they can.

Credit: Lark Photography

Credit: Lark Photography

Q: I heard that youths can get myocarditis and pericarditis, or inflammation of the heart, from coronavirus vaccines. How rare is this?

Klatte: When myocarditis/pericarditis does occur, it happens more often after the second dose of a two dose mRNA vaccine series. This side effect is indeed rare. In a CDC study published in July 2021, of 22 million second doses of vaccine given to people between the ages of 12-29 years from December 2020 – June 2021, there were 323 confirmed cases (0.0015%).

To put this in perspective, for the approximately 550,000 drivers in the state of Ohio under the age of 21 years, there are between 16,000–17,000 Ohio teenagers per year injured in motor vehicle crashes. If 3% of all teenage drivers in Ohio per year are injured in motor vehicle crashes, while 0.0015% experience myocarditis/pericarditis following their second dose of COVID-19 vaccine, then those same Ohio teens are 2,000 times more likely (3 divided by 0.0015 = 2,000) to be injured in a motor vehicle accident than they are to experience myocarditis/pericarditis after receiving their COVID vaccine.

Patterson: Many of the potential complications or side effects of vaccination occur naturally, every day. Myocarditis/pericarditis, (inflammation of the heart muscle or lining over the heart), historically occurs at a rate of 100-220 cases per million people and is more common in males. Ongoing research is showing that there are very rare cases of myocarditis and pericarditis following mRNA vaccines (Pfizer and Moderna) that occur most often in younger males (aged 12-25 years) and after the second dose, typically within several days. In 12- to 17-year-olds the myocarditis/pericarditis incidence rate is 67 cases per million second doses of vaccine in males and nine cases per million second doses in females. Among the 323 confirmed cases at the end of June 2021, nobody has died and those affected have improved within two weeks after treatment with common, well tolerated, non steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs). Don’t forget that myocarditis/pericarditis occurs after COVID-19 infections as well.

Q: What is the risk of heart inflammation from COVID-19 for a child?

Klatte: In one recent study of people under age 20 diagnosed with COVID-19, the adjusted rate of myocarditis/pericarditis per 1 million cases of COVID-19 infection was 328 (or 0.03% [328 divided by 1 million]). While 0.03% might not seem like much, keep in mind that it’s still 20 times greater than the 0.0015% risk associated with myocarditis/pericarditis following vaccination.

Patterson: It is estimated that myocarditis/pericarditis occurs 876 times in a million cases of COVID-19 infections among males 12-17 years old and 213 times in a million COVID-19 infections in females that age. So it appears that myocarditis/pericarditis is far more likely after infection from COVID-19 than after vaccination to prevent COVID-19.

Have questions about COVID-19, face masks, vaccines, testing, quarantining or anything else pandemic-related? Send them to Answers will be published regularly in print and online.

About the Author