Sharon Stoolman, M.D.

Dr. Sharon Stoolman talks about the impact of COVID-19 and addresses misconceptions about the vaccine and infertility.  

Dr. Stoolman is a board-certified pediatrician, and a hospitalist at Children’s Hospital & Medical Center in Omaha 

How do you feel COVID-19 has affected the lives of children?
COVID-19 has had a huge impact on not just their health, but their mental wellbeing, their stability. In their schooling, they’ve faced unprecedented asks in terms of how they learn, whether it’s remote or in person and flexing between those models. As a mom, I see the impact on my child and the change in his access to friends and athletics, which are really important things.   

Has COVID-19 had different impacts for different groups of kids?
Absolutely. We had some information initially that this was not going to impact children as much, and that has not played out to be true. There are children who are long haulers. I’ve seen kids being hospitalized from as young as two weeks old to 20-year-olds. And for a family, whether it’s two days or two months, that’s a huge deal to have your child hospitalized.  

This last six months we’ve seen a lot more special needs children. In that first year, I think many were really protected in a bubble. But as we open back up, as schools are open, now we’re seeing the impact of this serious disease on our more medically fragile. 

Why is it important that kids be vaccinated against COVID-19?
The vaccine is so important because that’s how we’re getting back to normal. Personally, in our house, the vaccine gave us that confidence and ability to resume normal school activities. My son loves to play football, so knowing he was vaccinated, we were much more comfortable with him going to regular practices and weightlifting. 

My husband and I still aren’t out going out a lot, but it allowed us to at least interact in a social setting with friends who were also vaccinated. And we needed that connection. We learned early in the pandemic that while social distancing keeps us safer from the virus, it’s not sustainable. We need human interaction. We need those activities. So, for me, the vaccine is really a path forward. That’s the way I think of it. 

As a doctor, how does kids being vaccinated against COVID-19 benefit you professionally?
With the COVID-19 vaccine, I can offer something to families who’ve been very nervous about their kids being in school – and we know that kids need to be in school. We’ve seen the impact of learning remotely. We’ve seen their test scores and their mental health. And so, when we’re looking to offer peace of mind to parents who are worried, the vaccine is the best thing. It allows them to reintroduce activities for their child.  

The other thing is when I look at kids who are hospitalized, most of them were vaccine eligible. There’s a sadness for me that this was a preventable hospitalization, a preventable illness. I’m really worried about the long-term impact. Will kids who had heart failure with their COVID-19 have heart failure in their 20s? What about the kids who have chronic daily headache or neuropsychiatric or depression symptoms that were triggered by their COVID? The vaccine is so important for alleviating that long-term worry. 

How would you respond if someone asked you if their child should get the vaccine? 
Our role as pediatricians is to be a resource, whether it’s about the flu vaccine or chicken pox or the COVID-19 vaccine. So I feel like it’s my job to make sure I have all the accurate information. I strongly believe in this vaccine, and I am so glad that my son has been vaccinated and boosted. There’s so much fear out there right now, and I hope that you can reach out to your pediatrician or your family doctor as a resource to help take that fear away. 

What is the most common misunderstanding about COVID-19 that you’re still seeing?
One of the fears people mention often has to do with infertility. And as the person who’s supposed to be the resource, I tell them, “Let’s go back and see, where did the concerns about fertility start?” It started with a researcher who was concerned that the spike protein has a lot of similarities to the placenta protein. And so if you made an antibody that would fight the spike protein, would it also attack the placental protein? The answer turned out to be no. The similarities were not enough.  

But the spike protein is not unique to the vaccine; it is unique to the coronavirus. So, if you have natural infection with the virus, that would be the same risk – if there was a risk – as the vaccine. It turned out that neither of these are true, and that fertility was not impacted by either the virus or the vaccine. The fertility concerns of the vaccine are unfounded.