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Experts say students and school employees need to be vaccinated now for full immunity to be in effect when classrooms reopen. FG Trade/Getty Images
  • Experts say parents should get appointments now for COVID-19 vaccinations for children 12 to 17 years old.
  • The Pfizer vaccine requires two doses and it takes two weeks after the second shot for full immunity to develop.
  • That means students returning to school in mid-August need to get vaccinated no later than mid-July.

The Fourth of July fireworks have barely fizzled away, and it’s already time to start thinking about sending children back to school.

This is especially important this year as COVID-19 is still a health hazard for students.

Experts say parents shouldn’t wait to get children older than 11 years old vaccinated. Given that two doses are necessary for most vaccines, and a 2-week waiting period is needed to bolster immunity, experts say parents should begin making vaccination appointments now for their children.

“Children represent about a quarter of new weekly reported COVID-19 cases in the U.S.,” Dr. Beth Oller, a family physician in Kansas, told Healthline. “This means they are still significantly contributing to the spread. While serious illness from COVID-19 is rare in children, it doesn’t mean it isn’t happening. Thousands of children have been hospitalized with COVID-19 since the pandemic began, and over 350 have died.

“As a parent, knowing that there’s a safe vaccine available that can virtually prevent hospitalization or death of my child or patients from COVID-19 makes the decision an extremely easy one,” Oller said.

Currently, the Pfizer vaccine is the only one available to children 12 to 17 years old. It’s given in 2 doses spread 3 weeks apart. After the second dose, it takes 2 more weeks for full immunity to develop.

With many schools beginning in August, experts say non-vaccinated children should be immunized as soon as possible.

“Vaccines work,” Dr. Jeannie Kenkare, chief medical officer of Connecticut-based PhysicianOne Urgent Care, told Healthline. “They save lives and prevent some of the worst outcomes from illness.

“In the case of COVID-19 vaccines, these are some of the most effective vaccines we have ever had,” Kenkare said. “If we don’t act quickly to get the vaccine into as many people as possible, then all of the efforts to stop this deadly disease may become ineffective and knock us back to the rates and outcomes we experienced near the beginning of the pandemic.”

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorized Pfizer’s vaccine in May for children 12 to 16 years old.

About 2 weeks later, stories began circulating about a possible link between the vaccine and myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart, in young recipients.

Although the connection was factual, cases weren’t common or severe enough, prompting the FDA issue only a warning.

“Unfortunately, since the consequences of COVID-19 infection in children has been less severe than adults, some parents have decided to hold off on vaccinating their children,” Kenkare said. “However, even as we consider the side effects —including the likely association between the very rare myocarditis and the COVID-19 vaccine — the risk of contracting COVID-19 and the complications associated with the disease are greater than the risks associated with getting the vaccine.

“Experts no longer believe that COVID-19 will eventually go away,” Kenkare added. “It is much more likely to be a disease that circulates indefinitely. So, if parents wait to get their children vaccinated, it will be more and more likely that the child will eventually contract COVID-19.”

States aren’t mandating COVID-19 vaccinations yet for public schools, said Dr. David Shafran, head of pediatrics at Cleveland-based K Health urgent care. That could change as more vaccine companies receive full FDA approval.

“The Moderna trials have proven similar safety,” Shafran told Healthline. “I suspect emergency approval for the Moderna vaccine for 12 to 17 is right around the corner. Despite the relatively low severity of COVID-19 in children, children can still be a vector of spread, especially teenagers, so they are an important part of achieving herd immunity.”

Experts say parents should ask their family doctor questions and share what they learn with other parents who might be on the fence.

They note that vaccines need time to take effect and that time shouldn’t be after students have already begun mingling with other kids at school.

“We know the virus is still around and that it’s continuing to mutate,” Kenkare said. “The delta variant is much more contagious than other strains, and right now, vaccination is the best form of prevention.”