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How vaccine misinformation left children vulnerable to Omicron

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An eight-year-old child receives the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine at the Beaumont Health offices in Southfield, Michigan on November 5, 2021

The Covid-19 pandemic took a deadly toll on adults in the United States for two years while largely sparing children from adding to the dire statistics.

But the rapid spread of the Omicron variant led to record pediatric infections and hospitalizations in the country, and anti-vaccination misinformation that tells parents the shots are dangerous is adding to the risk.

From worries that the shots were developed too quickly, to false claims that the jabs can impact future fertility, physician Wassim Ballan of Phoenix Children’s Hospital said combating misinformation has become part of his job.

Parents need to understand that the vaccines are “the most important tool for protection,” especially to avoid multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children, a rare and dangerous complication that can follow a mild Covid-19 infection.

– Protection from the womb –

Babies are too young for the Covid-19 shot, but Kathryn Gray, attending physician of maternal-fetal medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, said research increasingly shows that vaccination during pregnancy leads to antibodies safely being transferred to the baby, offering limited protection.

Gray is among those who are monitoring the situation. “To date there have been no safety signals” in the data, she said, adding that she has “a lot of confidence” in telling patients the shot is safe during pregnancy for mother and baby. 

Health agencies across the globe say the same, but the initial lack of data continues to be exploited in vaccine-opposed messaging on social media. Posts on Facebook and Twitter claimed that stillbirths rose following the push to vaccinate pregnant people, even though going unprotected against the disease is the greater risk.

But their research did reveal the risks of contracting the virus while pregnant.

– ‘Unvaccinated milk’ –

The Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine recommends vaccination for those who are lactating and says there is no reason to stop breastfeeding upon receiving the vaccine. 

The New York mother, along with her fellow moderators, decided to ban such requests, and the rules for her group of more than 10,500 parents now state: “Advertising or requesting vaccine free milk puts you, your children and community at risk.”

“Antibodies have been detected in the breast milk of vaccinated lactating women. This means that breastfed infants may have some protection against Covid-19 if their mothers receive the vaccine,” she said.

“Any concerns or unknown pieces about the vaccine are dwarfed by the risk of Covid.”



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