Alice Sato, M.D., Ph.D.

Meet the Maximizer

Dr. Alice Sato discusses how childhood vaccination helps our communities and explains how COVID-19 can lead to even more severe health problems in children.

Alice Sato, M.D., Ph.D., is a hospital epidemiologist with Children’s Hospital and Medical Center in Omaha, and Assistant Professor of Pediatric Infectious Disease at the University of Nebraska Medical Center

How has COVID-19 has affected the lives of children?

We’ve had many children who’ve lost a caregiver to COVID-19 or its complications. So, even without becoming infected themselves, they’ve been very heavily impacted. From the standpoint of infection directly, we’ve had many children in our ICUs and hospitals with COVID-19. There’s a classic acute infection that includes viral pneumonia. There’s also a second syndrome that occurs in children called MIS-C.

Why is it important that kids be vaccinated against COVID-19?

Vaccination prevents infections, it prevents hospitalizations due to COVID, and it prevents MIS-C in these patients. We also know that it’s important for children to be vaccinated, as part of vaccinating the entire population to prevent the spread of infection in the communities and to prevent the development of new variants in people who are infected.

You mentioned MIS-C before. Can you tell us more about that?

MIS-C is multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children associated with coronavirus. This is a post-infectious syndrome where they get fevers, and a lot of heart and gut involvement, and it can involve many other organ systems. Up to half of those children that we’ve diagnosed here have ended up needing ICU level care, blood pressure support, ventilators, heart/lung bypass, pacing wires. And we’ve taken care of over a hundred children with this syndrome since the start of the pandemic.

How does vaccinating children against COVID-19 benefit you personally?

Since vaccines have come out for children, we’ve been following very closely how safe they are as we’ve rolled it out to millions and millions of children. And my own children have all gotten their vaccines. My 5-to-11-year-old has completed their primary series. My 12-to-15-year-old has completed a primary series and is boosted. And my 16-to-18-year-old child has been boosted.

My son is in the highest risk factor group for developing myocarditis from the vaccine. But even then, that risk is very, very, very low – so low that I wasn’t worried about having him vaccinated and boosted. His risk of developing heart inflammation from COVID is more severe, more long lasting, and more impactful on his health.

And I enrolled my children in the V-Safe application, which monitors symptoms of children after vaccines are given. You can put your children into that app and they will prompt you to send information about side effects the kids might have. Some kids have no side effects, some kids have a fever or body aches for a day or two, so I made sure that my children were enrolled and kept a close eye on them. And with what we have learned, we feel strongly that this is very safe.

How does vaccinating kids against COVID-19 benefit you professionally?

Vaccination in children is really important for preventing them from developing severe COVID, requiring them to be in the hospital or even the ICU. Just to protect them from that alone, these vaccines are worth it. And when we look at the safety of vaccines in children, it’s been really good. We feel very confident in moving forward with the vaccines in children.

So, similarly, how does kids getting vaccinated against COVID-19 benefit our community?

When children get infected, they impact their entire family. If my child is sick and has to stay home, do my other kids need to stay home because they’re exposed? Do I need to stay home? Do their classmates who are exposed need to stay home?

So, all these preventive measures including masks, vaccines, social distancing, avoiding people who are sick, or not going places when we’re sick, can have ripple effects on how people live their lives. And we need to make sure there are enough people able to work, enough teachers, and enough students who can participate in school.

The other thing is that children who are infected may have symptoms for weeks afterwards. We’ve seen many children with what’s categorized as a mild infection who still have problems with fatigue, aches and pains, how well they’re thinking, problems with their mood. And if you think about a month of fatigue in a child, they are missing out on a month of school. Their family has to figure out how to care for them, how to help them catch up with school, and catch up with their activities. Vaccination helps families and communities avoid these longer-lasting symptoms.