ER Physician Dr. Michael Daignault On Why Previously Infected Kids Under 5 Should Get COVID Vaccine - Exclusive

There's a lot of information out there about vaccinating little kids, and parents are understandably trying to sift through the facts so they can make the best decision for their families. Of course, as of last week, the COVID-19 vaccine became available for children from age 6 months through 5 years (finally!). But it's been a long haul, with parents and caregivers having a lot of time to wonder about whether getting their little one poked makes sense. This is especially true because many kids have already been infected with COVID-19, with the American Academy of Pediatrics reporting that 13.6 million kids have tested positive since the pandemic began. 

The AAP recommends that even if your child has previously had COVID-19, they should still start their vaccination series. But what about natural immunity? Most experts note a person is unlikely to get reinfected twice within one to three months. And according to a study in The Lancet, infection is equal to immunity from receiving a vaccine. 

To get to the bottom of why it's still important for kids, who admittedly are less likely to become very sick with COVID, to receive their jabs to protect against the virus, Health Digest exclusively interviewed Los Angeles-based ER doctor Michael Daignault, MD, who has been on the front lines fighting against the pandemic.

The COVID-19 vaccine series is safe for all kids

First, Dr. Michael Daignault stressed that, "Yes. The AAP 'strongly recommends' for children in the 6-months to 5-year age group to get vaccinated." He explained that both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are now available for kids under age 5.

Daignault also wants to put parents' minds at ease about side effects. "In the vaccine trials for this age group, the most common side effects were fever, irritability and decreased appetite," he noted. Other side effects that were seen in kids aren't too serious, such as muscle aches and something most parents are used to from their children's regular vaccine schedule: soreness at the site of injection. "These can be managed with acetaminophen or ibuprofen," Daignault advised.

Given the manageable side effects from the vaccine, and that the AAP recommends the shots, hopefully most parents' worries will be assuaged. But what if your small child has already had COVID-19?

A COVID-19 infection can count as a dose of vaccine

The best news for parents is that according to Dr. Michael Daignault, kids are "less likely to develop severe COVID-19 illness and require hospitalization." Most will recover from a COVID-19 infection. But, some kids will become very sick — and others could develop long-term effects from the virus. With those facts in mind, Dr. Daignault's advice is to consider the benefits of future protection and get your child vaccinated.

"If it's been 90 days [or more] since the infection, it's important they start the vaccination process," he told Health Digest. "However, a previous infection should count as a 'dose,'" he added, going on to explain, "For example, the Pfizer vaccine for those 6 months to 5 years is a three-dose regimen. In the case of a child who had COVID, they should be well-protected with two doses."

Daignault stressed that both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are "safe and can provide substantial protection against hospitalization and long COVID." Ultimately, he wants parents to know, "It's important for kids to face Omicron and any of its sub-variants with some vaccine-induced protection." 

Whether your little one is headed to summer camp or on a family vacation, or you're just looking ahead to the new school year, the takeaway is to talk to your child's pediatrician and start the vaccination process as soon as it's appropriate based on their past infection status.

Michael Daignault, MD, is a board-certified ER doctor and COVID-19 expert in Los Angeles. Find him on Instagram.