Kari Simonsen, M.D.

Dr. Kari Simonsen explains why vaccinating children helps the entire community and discusses Nebraska’s role in testing the Pfizer vaccine for approval.   

Dr. Simonsen is the Chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Nebraska Medical Center and the Pediatrician-in-Chief at Children’s Hospital in Omaha 

How has COVID-19 affected the lives of children?
The American Academy of Pediatrics has reported that over eight million U.S. kids have gotten COVID at this point. But COVID has also impacted our kids by limiting their ability to attend school and go to their activities, sports, music, theater, and arts.  

Why do you feel it’s important for kids ages five and older to be vaccinated? Some would say, “They’re kids, they’ve got strong immunity. I don’t think they need it.”
It’s true that kids are resilient, and they’ve been less severely impacted than some adults. However, COVID infections disrupt their daily lives with family and school. And getting them vaccinated will help us all get back to doing the things we want without fear of infection and exposing others. 

How does vaccinating kids against COVID-19 benefit you personally?
It’s really close to my heart because I’m a mom. I’ve got two teenage daughters and they’re both vaccinated. Of course, getting vaccinated is a little bit scary, but they were very brave and committed to helping us get through this pandemic.  

How does vaccinating kids benefit you professionally? 
I want to see our kids out there doing the things they want to do, including going to school in person. I don’t want to have to care for kids who are in the hospital, sick with COVID. Kids who are not yet vaccinated are the ones ending up in the hospital, severely ill, and we want to keep our kids healthy. 

How does vaccinating kids benefit our community?
It benefits our whole community because not only will there be fewer illnesses in children, but there will also be fewer illnesses in the adults around them. That includes their parents, teachers, leaders of community activities, and even folks they might be around in large events.  

If someone came to you and said, “I’m hesitant to get my child vaccinated,” what would you say?
I’d advise them to talk to their trusted pediatrician, family doctor, nurse practitioner – the one who knows them best – because those concerns are very personal and related to individual conditions. But once they have answers to their questions, I tell them to go forward with getting the vaccine. It’s safe. It’s been delivered to millions of folks, including millions of kids. 

How have you been involved with vaccine testing for kids? 
Children’s and UNMC have been part of the Pfizer trial for the COVID vaccine for kids. I’ve been leading a study with 50 kids from the area between the ages of six months and 11 years old. The older kids, the five to elevens, they were part of that data set reviewed by the FDA and CDC and helped us get approval for school age kids. I’m so proud of those families and kids for participating with us to help get the vaccine approved in school age kids. We think the data will be far enough along early in 2022 for guidance on vaccines for even younger kids, and we need that so all our community members can be safe. 

What do you say to someone who says, “I’m not getting my child vaccinated because I think it was rushed,” or “I think that there were corners that were cut?” 
Development of the COVID-19 vaccine has followed the exact same steps we’ve used for the approval of other vaccines throughout history in the U.S. There weren’t any corners cut. What was different is that we pooled resources to prioritize this vaccine because of the pandemic. It was an all hands on deck approach that moved things along so quickly, not skipping steps or changing the process. 

How important is vaccination to helping kids stay in school?
It’s really important. It helps protect them, sitting in those classrooms daytoday. And it’s really important for keeping teachers healthy and safe as well. Teachers have been significantly impacted by COVID illnesses and keeping our kids safe also helps keep teachers safe. Vaccines are a huge part of that.