Pediatrician Dr. Kristin Lottig has been busy over the last year assuaging concerns from parents during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The concerns run the gamut — but lately, parents are asking about the risks and benefits of vaccination.
Pfizer, Moderna and the Johnson & Johnson vaccines have been proven to be effective in helping to stop the spread of the virus while also protecting individuals from severe illness. Pfizer recently received the green light that it was safe for children between ages 12 to 15. While some have rushed to have their children get the jab, others are still hesitant.
“I’d say the main concern is that the vaccines are new,” said Dr. Lottig, 50. “And that creates a lot of fear for families. They worry about the long-term side effects. That seems to be true with any new vaccine.”
She said that every family has a different tolerance for risk.
“I try to support them with the facts and acknowledging that there is a lot of unknowns, more unknowns than most times,” she said. “But overall it’s a safe and effective vaccine, and I wouldn’t be recommending it if I wasn’t giving it to my children, too.”
On a recent weekday, Dr. Lottig’s 13-year-old and 12-year-old were about to receive their second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine from Pfizer, the only company whose product has been approved for children so far. Her third child, a 7-year-old, is still waiting; the company expects to be able to vaccinate children under 12 by the fall.
While children are less at risk for severe illness from COVID-19, they are not immune to the virus.
“I do get asked a lot if kids get it. I tell them, ‘Yeah. I had four positive tests today. Kids get it.’ People seem surprised by that,” Dr. Lottig said. “Most do OK with it, but some don’t. So we’d rather prevent it than have to deal with the unfortunate bad complication.”
Dr. Lottig commutes from her home in the Alameda neighborhood in Northeast Portland to the Salmon Creek clinic. She has worked for Kaiser Permanente for more than 15 years.
The Columbian caught up with Dr. Lottig to learn more about her job.
There’s a lot of dialogue right now around children and the vaccine. How do you address concerns from parents?
Well, I usually just partner with the patient and give my perspective on that. There are a couple different things at play. One is that with almost every vaccine out there, any major side effects, they’re found in the first six weeks. We have had millions vaccinated for months now. Also, like everything in life, there’s a risk-benefit decision we have to make. Nothing we do, even driving to work every day, is without risk. Each family has different risk tolerance. I talk about how I have my kids vaccinated. It’s a global pandemic, which is a very unusual situation — so we’re in a position where we do have to make a decision based on more limited data than in the past.
Did your children exhibit any side effects after getting the shot?
They didn’t exhibit any side effects.
Children are at less of a risk of severe illness from COVID. But why should they still get vaccinated?
Kids can get sick from COVID. There are kids who get sick, and some kids have died from it. Kids can also pass it on to adults who aren’t immunized. Adults with chronic underlying conditions get sicker than others. It’s also to minimize the disease circulating in the community – it’s a public health issue as well.
Have you had any patients who you recommend not getting the vaccine? Why?
I haven’t. That would be a very small set of kids who have other underlying health conditions with probably a specialist making that determination. There’s not a lot of that; other than having a history of severe anaphylactic reactions, which would be crazy rare.
What are the risks to children whose parents opt them out of vaccination?
Well, luckily, most children who get infected with COVID do fine or have relatively mild symptoms — so that’s good. However, if you’re one of those kids who has more serious side effects — it can cause problems with the lungs and heart. Those kids usually need to be hospitalized and receive medication. If you’re having one of those more serious complications — the way I see it, like with the flu vaccine every year — yes, while most kids do fine and get through the flu or maybe they’ll have a mild complication, there are some kids who do get really sick and die every year. If there’s something you can do to prevent it, I think the benefit outweighs any risk.
What are some of the other myths or misconceptions about vaccination you’re hearing from parents out there?
I mean, I’ve heard it all. One of the big ones that popped up is “Does it affect fertility?” It does not. I’d say the vast majority of patients are interested in getting their children protected and looking forward to the time when they can. There’s some in the middle that need some extra time to just see how it goes over the next few months and I think that’s completely reasonable too. My job is to provide support, information and reassurance when I can. And hopefully to at least correct misinformation to those open to receiving that feedback.
Besides the pandemic, what are some other challenges you’ve faced on the job?
Well, very specific to the pandemic, there has been a huge increase in mental health issues for children. Huge. Also a huge increase in child obesity. They’re kind of two really negative effects we’ve seen from this pandemic. We’re not seeing as many sick kids with infections these days, but it’s creeping up a little bit. Respiratory illnesses and gastrointestinal illnesses – not nearly as many as we used to see during full-time school and day care. But all of that’s been replaced by real struggles with mental health, eating disorders and obesity. It’s been a huge, huge switch.
Why has there been such a change?
I think like children are social creatures. They crave routine and interaction just like adults do and we took that away from people. There’s been kids who have been home alone, trying to do their schoolwork from home and not having interaction with teachers or friends. Children who have needed to step up and take care of other children in a family. It’s very different than their former roles. I think there’s also a level of anxiety in society that’s high – children sense that and experience it too. They’re at home and not getting as much exercise. All of those things can conspire together to create those changes. I’m sure there are a million things but those are the most obvious contributing factors.
What are your hopes going forward?
I’m really hoping a back-to-normal school year next year – for my patients and my own family. I’m hoping that businesses can open up and we can enjoy spending time at restaurants again. I miss that a lot. I’m hoping moving forward, our thoughts are really around prevention with the mental health issues we’ve seen; how can we build resilience early on. I’m just looking for a normal life again.