Dr. Jason Kessler, Section Chief, Infectious Disease at Morristown Medical Center, part of Atlantic Health System, is answering the top questions on parents’ minds about the COVID vaccine.

Will the vaccine work on the new variants of COVID?
Dr. Kessler says there is reason to be hopeful that the COVID-19 vaccines currently in use will be effective in preventing illness from the variants that are currently circulating within the population. “There have been studies both in the laboratory and from real-world experience that suggest at least for the most common variant (the UK variant) that the current vaccines produce an immune response that is able to neutralize the virus,” he says. The doctor says there have been some studies performed in the laboratory that suggest some of the variants may be at least partially resistant to the antibody immune response generated by the vaccines. “However, this must be tempered with the knowledge that the human immune system is complex and multifaceted, and we do not as of yet know what threshold of antibody response correlates with protective immunity from infection or illness with COVID-19,” he says. Kessler says people should be reassured that their best option for staying safe and healthy both for themselves and their loved ones is to get vaccinated as soon as they are able.

If I get the vaccine, can I still unknowingly transmit COVID to others?
“The vaccines that have been granted emergency approval have all been shown to prevent symptomatic illness from infection with the novel coronavirus,” says Kessler.  “There is some evidence to also suggest that the vaccines can also prevent infection or carriage of the novel coronavirus as well though it is not yet clear that the effectiveness in infection prevention is as robust as the effect on symptomatic illness.”  Kessler stresses that until more knowledge is gained as to the true efficacy of the different vaccines in preventing infection it remains critically important that people continue to follow the public health guidelines and recommendations put forward by the Centers for Disease Control as well as the Department of Health in their state. “This is in order to continue to limit further spread of the virus within the population.”

When will my child be able to get a vaccine?
All three approved vaccine manufactures are working to conduct clinical trials on the use of their vaccines in children, says Kessler. “Currently teenagers over the age of 16 are already eligible for vaccination with the Pfizer mRNA vaccine and teens 18 years old and over can receive either of the other two available vaccines once supplies are adequate to expand access to this group,” he says. Dr. Kessler adds that it is likely that high schoolers will be able to be vaccinated around the time of the opening of schools in 2021 with younger children hopefully gaining access during the beginning of 2022 should the clinical trials proceed as expected. “Of course, these are only estimates, and things could change for the better or for worse depending on a multitude of factors,” he says.

Will I need a booster shot?
A booster is an extra administration of an earlier dose of the vaccine. Kessler says that the vaccine manufacturers are continuing to work on developing updated vaccines in case it is demonstrated that one or more variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus are resistant to the vaccines currently in use. “We can expect further changes and variations to occur in the genetic makeup of the virus as time moves forward,” he says. “It would not be surprising that updates or boosters would be needed to adequately protect individuals from potentially new variants of COVID-19.”  However, it is too soon to predict exactly how frequently such boosters would be needed, says Kessler.

“It is also likely that soon we will have one or more tests to determine how probable it is that we are protected from COVID-19 after vaccination,” says Kessler. “Individuals including those with severely weakened immune systems from chronic diseases such as HIV, diabetes, cancer or those taking immunosuppressive medications may also require additional boosters or vaccinations based on the results of these tests.”  Kessler says that exactly what form these recommendations might take is not yet clear, however, this is a very vulnerable group that may require a more aggressive approach when it comes to vaccination.