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UPMC officials say parents shouldn’t hesitate to get kids vaccinated

A man gets a COVID-19 vaccine.
Matt Slocum

On Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that kids ages 5 to 11 can now receive Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine. But according to experts, misinformation remains a critical barrier to getting children vaccinated.

At a press conference on Friday, UPMC officials emphasized the benefits of vaccinations for younger kids. They were adamant that the real health risks come from people choosing not to get vaccinated.

Dr. Richard Beigi, the president of UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital, said the vaccine essentially teaches the body how to fight the coronavirus before leaving a person’s system. And despite some worries from parents, researchers have found no evidence to suggest that the vaccine could have negative health effects 5 or 10 years in the future.

“Those concerns have never borne out [in] reality. That comes up every time there’s a discussion around immunizations—especially when there’s new immunizations,” Beigi said. “[T]here’s no traces of the vaccine left after a few days.”

Some rare potential side effects of the vaccine, such as the heart inflammation myocarditis, are more severe in children infected by COVID-19, said Dr. Alejandro Hoberman, the president of UPMC Children's Community Pediatrics.

“Multiple sources of data, in this country and abroad, show that serious vaccine effects are very rare, and that the benefits of vaccination against COVID-19 far outweigh the risks of vaccines, such as myocarditis,” he said. Roughly five out of every 1 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have resulted in myocarditis in children.

Pregnant people face an increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19. But Beigi said this is a “largely preventable problem” if they get vaccinated.

“The often-mentioned but completely unsubstantiated concerns about COVID-19 vaccines causing either miscarriages or other problems with their pregnancy, or causing problems getting pregnant is a complete myth, plain and simple,” he said. “What is not a myth is the harm that COVID-19 can have on pregnant women and their unborn babies.”

The CDCrecommends that all pregnant people get vaccinated. About a third of pregnant people across the country have been vaccinated. Beigi said the numbers are similar in the Pittsburgh region.

UPMC chief quality officer Tami Minnier said people,especially young children, should not wait to get vaccinated.

“If you are an unvaccinated individual, you have a 10 times greater chance of dying,” she said.

In October, more than 10% of COVID-19 cases nationwide came from kids in the 5 to 11 age group, but the vaccine has been shown to create a strong immune response in this group.

In the first 24 hours after the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine was available for those under 12, parents and guardians signed up about 10,000 kids with UPMC, hospital officials said.

Hoberman said more than two-thirds of kids who have been hospitalized with COVID-19 are Black or Hispanic. One of the next steps for health care providers will be ensuring the vaccines are distributed equitably.

“We need to understand that this is now a vaccine-preventable disease, like measles or polio, or many other diseases that affect children,” said Hoberman.

UPMC will operate vaccine clinics at schools and with community organizations in an effort to meet people where they are. Pediatricians at 55 Children's Community Pediatrics clinics will also offer the vaccine.

Health officials suggest that people who have concerns about the vaccine contact their primary care physician or a health care professional for answers.

Julia Zenkevich reports on Allegheny County government for 90.5 WESA. She first joined the station as a production assistant on The Confluence, and more recently served as a fill-in producer for The Confluence and Morning Edition. She’s a life-long Pittsburgher, and attended the University of Pittsburgh. She can be reached at