First published in the Nov. 20 print issue of the Glendale News Press.
Dr. Christine Mirzaian wanted to set an example for other parents.
So as soon as COVID-19 vaccines were authorized for children, the pediatrician brought her 5-year-old daughter to work, at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, to get round one of the shot.
After bearing witness to how the coronavirus has devastated Southern California for 19 months, the Glendale native and resident said she didn’t have to think twice about it.
“It was a no-brainer,” Mirzaian said. “The second I could come, I had (my daughter) in the car and I was on the way.”
For a pediatrician, statistics helped make the decision a “no-brainer.”
Since the beginning of the pandemic, COVID has resulted in at least 614 pediatric deaths in the United States. As a parallel, there also have been 46 recorded deaths from multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children, or MIS-C, as a result of coronavirus infections. There have been 5,217 cases of MIS-C in the United States, the most frequent of which have been in the 5- to 11-year-old group — 2,316 cases.
In spite of the perception that COVID-19 marginally affects young children, “614 deaths among children throughout the pandemic is not insignificant,” Mirzaian said. “It’s not only children who have underlying conditions who have this happen. It can happen to everyone.”
In her work, Mirzaian said she often meets families for whom vaccination is less of a no-brainer, whether it’s hesitancy or outright hostility to the inoculation. In the interest of persuading them to change their minds, she listens to them and addresses their concerns.
“It’s a conversation I have almost daily,” Mirzaian said. “The most important thing to do is really listen to what the families’ concerns are. Some of the things that come up are things that I can answer — ‘What about the heart inflammation I’ve heard about?’ — so I try to offer them the scientific data available.”
For example, she said, heart inflammation — myocarditis — is substantially more likely with a COVID infection than it is from the vaccine, she said.
How do we know what the long-term effects will be with such a new vaccine? Doctors and researchers historically do not expect side effects from any vaccine beyond six weeks, she explained, and there’s no scientific reason to expect anything different with these new shots.
Another frequent concern revolves around long-term fertility or current pregnancy complications.
“Of course, that sounds scary and of course parents are going to be concerned,” Mirzaian said, “but again, what is the scientific basis for that? There really is none. COVID itself can cause fertility issues” — including pre-term birth, stillbirth and death in pregnant women.
Vaccines seldom eliminate diseases, but when they make it to our arms, they are shown to significantly reduce the likelihood of serious illness or complications that would lead to hospitalization — or death — should the recipient contract the disease. Researchers were able to produce COVID-19 vaccines quickly for two reasons — the virus’ genome was fully sequenced early into the pandemic, with the code made publicly available. The uncontrolled nature of its spread also meant that those researchers were able to compile its drug trial data much quicker than usual.
Mirzaian also highlighted that the type of vaccine, which uses a mRNA platform to introduce a spike protein of the target virus to our immune systems, made it quick to produce a possible solution once the genome was sequenced.
“Something that reassured me, as a physician and a mother, is that the technology for mRNA vaccines has been studied for decades and they were working on a vaccine for the Zika virus before,” she said. “The blueprints were all there, so this was the opportunity to use a technology that already existed.
“Now we’re going to be able to use this technology for other vaccines,” Mirzaian added. “It’s really opening doors.”
GUSD OFFERS VACCINE CLINICS
The Glendale Unified School District has twice this month held vaccination clinics targeting the area’s 5- to 11-year-olds — the first at Cerritos Elementary School, in partnership with Flintridge Pharmacy, and the second at the GUSD central office, in partnership with Mend Urgent Care.
“Public schools are the centers of our communities,” Superintendent Vivian Ekchian said. “We are incredibly grateful to our local health care partners who have generously committed their time and energy to help us facilitate vaccination clinics for our students, employees, families, and community.”
The district said it applied first doses to 351 people at the Cerritos clinic on Nov. 10 and had an additional 680 people receive shots at the central office event on Thursday.
“We are committed to providing equitable access to essential services and support for our children and families,” said Shant Sahakian, president of the GUSD Board of Education. “This has been an exciting opportunity to serve our Glendale Unified community by making vaccination easily available to anyone who wants to take advantage of it.”