Nearly two years after the coronavirus first surfaced, kids continue to wrestle with what the pandemic means for them.
Their questions range in tone and urgency, with some seeking clarity about the vaccines and others wondering why precautions such as mask wearing and social distancing remain necessary even with the proliferation of COVID-19 immunizations.
Here are some of the questions that students asked during sessions with Johns Hopkins Health Education and Training Corps volunteers and staff, with responses from several Maryland-based physicians and public health experts.
Is it worth it to get the vaccine if you can still get the virus?
One hundred percent — let’s remember the purpose of the vaccine: to keep you safe, out of the hospital and prevent death. It’s like wearing a bike helmet — doesn’t prevent you from falling, just that if you fall, you won’t have significant head trauma. If you catch the virus, it hopefully won’t be more of an issue than a common cold. — Dr. Panagis Galiatsatos, Johns Hopkins Medicine
What if you have the coronavirus and you wear a mask? Does it stay inside the mask?
The reason we wear masks is twofold: one is to protect ourselves in case there is someone around us who has COVID-19 and doesn’t know, and the second is if we ourselves are carrying the virus.
Masks help prevent the virus from spreading into the air, and therefore, it protects you and the other people around you. — Dr. Leana Wen, former Baltimore Health Commissioner
What age group does COVID-19 spread in most commonly?
COVID is spreading now among unvaccinated individuals, and those individuals are generally children and people 35 and under. In Baltimore City, we have seen a major increase in COVID cases among school-aged children, 6-15 years old.
The pediatric COVID vaccine is now available for children 5-11 years old. Adolescents 12 years old and up can take the adult COVID vaccine. The more children, adolescents, and adults who are vaccinated against COVID, the less the virus will spread in our families and communities. — Dr. Kendra McDow, Baltimore City Health Department
What would happen if you can’t tell you’re sick, and you go get a vaccine?
That’s fine. If you can tell you are not feeling well, like having fevers or chills or a soar throat, that is usually obvious to most. Otherwise, you should be fine. Or talk to your doctor and discuss. — Dr. Galiatsatos
Why is it called COVID-19?
The “19″ stands for 2019, and that was the year the virus and the disease caused by the virus were first discovered in Wuhan, China. “COVID” comes from the word “coronavirus” and COVID-19 is an abbreviation of the name given to the disease.
COVID-19 is an easy way of describing the symptoms of that coronavirus, which has a different name, SARS-COV-2. — Dr. Gregory Schrank, University of Maryland Medical Center
What’s the difference between the vaccines? Is one recommended over another?
They all get to the same endpoint. It’s like taking a train, plane or car to get to Washington, D.C. — same endpoint, different modes of transportation. The vaccines differ somewhat in technology, but the end result is the same: antibodies against COVID-19. — Dr. Galiatsatos
When should you get the vaccine after having COVID-19?
It’s definitely important to get the vaccine, even if you’ve been infected with COVID. Getting the vaccine will ensure that you receive a strong and powerful immune response. It doesn’t really matter if you had mild or severe disease before; the vaccine ensures the antibody response is the same for everybody.
As far as the timing: definitely not when you’re at home, sick still, because we want people to feel better and be healthy, and we don’t want people to spread it to anyone else. So, staying at home and recovering until your doctor or parents say it’s OK to leave the house, at least.
It can vary from person to person, depending on how old they are, how sick they got what variant they had when they had it. But for most people I recommend waiting a month or two before considering getting the vaccine. Right after getting infected is when you have the highest level of protection, so it’s OK to wait a few weeks. — Dr. Schrank
Should we wear masks outside?
You do not need to wear a mask when you’re outdoors, in general. We now know that the greatest risk to COVID-19 is indoor, crammed spaces where there is not a lot of airflow. Outside, there is very good circulation of air, and therefore, it is generally not necessary to wear masks outside.
However, there might be some places that still have a rule. For example, when people are very close together outside for prolonged periods of time. You should still follow rules of your school and other places that may still be requiring masks. — Dr. Wen
Why didn’t I get COVID-19 even though my parents did?
We have learned that some people who get infected with COVID-19 may not have symptoms, meaning they may not feel or act sick. Also, we ask people who know they are sick with COVID-19 to stay away from others as much as possible and to wear a mask if they are around others. So, it is possible that your parents tried to protect you from getting sick. — Dr. Jinlene Chan, Maryland Department of Health
Are people with different blood types affected differently?
It was a topic of discussion during the first months of the pandemic. There was some data that suggested that blood type affected the severity of disease. Now, we know that’s not the case.
The short answer is, no, there’s no association between blood type and contracting the disease or the severity of the disease. — Dr. Schrank
Are some masks more effective than others?
Some masks are better at capturing the droplets than others. We recommend that cloth masks have three layers of material to have the best protection. There are some masks that health care workers use, called N95 masks, that are individually fitted for them and are made to keep out even the smallest droplets.
Masks can only work if worn properly and if they cover both the nose and mouth. — Dr. Chan
If a pregnant person got COVID, would it harm the baby?
Pregnancy is a risk factor for severe COVID disease. Having COVID during pregnancy not only impacts the pregnant person but can also have negative effects on the developing baby. Pregnant persons are at increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19, including being hospitalized and needing intensive care. Pregnant persons are also more likely to have preterm labor and stillbirth.
COVID-19 vaccination is safe in pregnancy. A pregnant person should get fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and get a booster dose. Vaccination will protect themselves and their baby. — Dr. McDow
Why are pandemics likely to happen every 100 years?
A pandemic happens when a disease starts to spread across different countries and affect many people. Pandemics usually happen when there is a new disease that can spread quickly. Because it is a new disease, people don’t have any immunity (or protection) against it so are more likely to get sick and then spread it to others.
Is it true that the vaccines can cause heart enlargement?
There is an extremely low risk of inflammation of the heart muscle that is associated with the vaccine. In almost all the cases, people who have this inflammation will recover completely in matter of days to weeks, and there will not be any long-term harm in the enlargement.
Our federal health officials have looked at the data and determined that the risk of inflammation of the heart muscle is greater if you contract the coronavirus than if you get the vaccine. And the potential of having many other harms to your body, including some that may last for a long time, is greater if you contract the coronavirus. — Dr. Wen
Does working out and drinking water help reduce the risk of COVID?
Working out, drinking water and eating healthy are important to maintaining our overall health. However, they are not enough to reduce the risk of COVID-19 disease. The best way to reduce your risk of COVID is to be fully vaccinated, mask in indoor public spaces, physically distance and wash your hands. Anyone can get COVID-19 disease and become sick, even someone in tip-top shape.
Vaccines are proven to reduce the risk of becoming infected with COVID, being hospitalized or dying from COVID. Vaccination is the best protection. — Dr. McDow
Is the virus as serious now as it was before?
Even more so. Right now in the U.S., there is something called the delta variant, and more than 99% of all people who have the coronavirus have the delta variant. This is a lot more contagious than the variant of the virus that was the main form earlier on in the pandemic, and this variant seems to cause more severe disease.
There’s actually an easy way to resolve this. We have tools now that we did not have a year ago, and specifically, the main protective tool is the coronavirus vaccine.
Think about the layers you wear when it’s cold outside. If it’s cold outside, you have to wear many layers. If you have a really good winter coat, you can take off some of the other layers.
It’s the same analogy for the virus. If there’s a lot of virus around you, you have to wear many layers. But if you have a really good winter coat — in this case the vaccine — you don’t need as many other layers as you had before. We now have this excellent winter coat: That’s the reason we were able to return to our lives. — Dr. Wen
Why do the vaccines cause side effects?
Your body is made up of different types of cells that recognize the vaccine as something new, and they all work together to make lots of antibodies to protect you.
It’s like exercising at gym or practicing a sport: The more you train, the better prepared you’ll be to lift weights or run on the treadmill.
That’s kind of what getting a vaccine is. It’s preparing your body in case it gets infected with the coronavirus, and just like exercise, it can be tiring and uncomfortable, but a sign your body is building a strong immune response. It’s actually a good thing because it means the body is mounting a response that will protect you for months and years to come.
For most people, the symptoms are short-lasting, maybe a couple of days. For the overwhelming majority, it’s two days at most. There might be some pain and soreness at arm, feeling tired, some people will have a fever. When all cells are working together, it’s the same cells that fight off other types of infection, so that fever isn’t because you have COVID — it’s a sign your immune system is working. — Dr. Schrank
What’s in the vaccines? Is there anything in them that someone could be allergic to?
In vaccines, [there] could be genetic material, or a viral transporter transporting the spike protein. These materials are not usually the cause of the allergies as they are things you come across often. Usually, what we coat the vaccine in, the lipids and sugars, may cause allergic reactions. But this is very rare. — Dr. Galiatsatos
Can the vaccines stop other illnesses?
This vaccine is targeted to the coronavirus. It does not protect you from getting other illnesses, like the flu. So you still have to get the other vaccines.
You usually get immunizations for different things that target one thing in particular. The chickenpox vaccine won’t work against measles. It’s the same idea here. — Dr. Wen
Why were the vaccines developed so fast?
The reason why they were developed so quickly is because we were in the middle of a pandemic, and people all around the world were getting very, very sick, and the infection was spreading all around the world. Without a vaccine, we knew people would be vulnerable and still be getting sick.
It was a priority for scientists around the world to work on this vaccine as quickly as possible without cutting any corners for safety. And so it was developed faster than other vaccines because it was moved to the top of the list for top researchers everywhere, in dozens of countries.
There were a lot of resources given to science from governments, including the U.S. government, so that people could work on it, and that includes here in Maryland at the National Institutes of Health.
With all that attention and time and effort, we were able to develop quickly three vaccines for use without compromising safety at all. These are extremely, extremely safe vaccines, so it’s really just a matter of making sure we could get the job done instead of cutting corners or ignoring any part of the research trial that focuses on safety. “Operation Warp Speed” was just about cutting out the red tape. — Dr. Schrank
How long can you spread the virus if you have it?
You can spread the virus to someone else up to 14 days after infection. An infected person can start spreading the virus to others two days before they develop symptoms.
If you test positive for COVID-19, it is very important to stay home from school and/or work and isolate from close friends and family to prevent spreading the virus to others. — Dr. McDow
How much longer will COVID-19 be around? When can we stop wearing masks?
Hoping the pandemic is over in the summer of 2022, but COVID-19 itself won’t be gone. It will likely linger around certain parts of the world and likely follow the same path as the flu. — Dr. Galiatsatos