Assessing whether my teen should get the SARS-Cov2 (COVID-19) vaccine

wherein our hero implores you to not listen to some random guy on the internet about taking vaccines. Talk to your doctor.

Posted by Orville Bennett on 14 August 2021
Read time: about 10 minutes

My wife tasked me with reading up on COVID-19 vaccines to see if they were safe for our oldest to take.1 I, not being one to shy away from the opportunity to spend a day or so reading papers, jumped at the opportunity!


Pfizer's mRNA-based vaccine seem safe for adolescents. What's more, it seems it is more effective in adolescents than it is in young adults.2 I haven't found anything that causing me to definitively say, "Don't do it." which is what I look for. Also, it's the only one currently (emergency) authorized for use in adolescents in the United States.

There are quite a lot of COVID-19 vaccines out there from a variety of companies, made from a variety of techniques. I started looking at the mRNA vaccines first, because that is the technique I was the least familiar with and needed the most catching up on. Then, I worked my way to vaccines using more traditional techniques.

1. Pfizer-BioNtech

First up on the reading block: Pfizer-BioNtech's mRNA vaccine—BNT162b2. So 1st things 1st. This vaccine has not been generally approved by the FDA. It was approved for emergency use on December 11, 2020. Seeing as we are in a pandemic3 this does qualify as an emergency.

Alas, this was only an approval for people in a specific age group: 16 on up. But on May 10, 2021, emergency use was approved for kids 12 on up (effectively, 12-15 year olds).

Whither vaccination

So 12-15 year olds can now get this vaccine, but are there risks that come with getting it? Do the risks outweigh the benefits of not being vaccinated? These are the kinds of questions I ask myself before deciding whether to receive any newly developed vaccines.

Anyone who knows me well is familiar with my—2-3 year—personal moratorium on new vaccines. Why? We can know whether a vaccine is generally safe based on historical data, or our understanding of its mechanism of action4. But you never really know until you stick it inside someone and see how they react to it. To get into why this is would take us on a long digression into how the immune system works which, while fun (for me) isn't the point of this post. Maybe I'll get into the exceptional beauty of how the immune system works in another post.

Back to vaccines.

Fact: no matter how diligent scientists are, we are unable to predict with absolute certainty how a vaccine will affect specific individuals.

Given that, if I'm going to allow my kid get a totally new, not yet officially FDA approved vaccine I'm going to need to have reasonable confidence that this thing:

  • offers the protection it should,
  • does so in a manner that isn't likely to have any adverse effects.

BNT162b2 protection against SARS-Cov2

A recent paper in the New England Journal of Medicine reports that a group of over 1100 kids had an observed vaccine efficacy of 100%.5

Potential concerns with BNT162b2

On June 25, 2021 the FDA revised the patient and provider fact sheets regarding the suggested increased risks of myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle) and pericarditis (inflammation of the tissue surrounding the heart) following vaccination. That seems like something I should check out so I did.

Myocarditis and pericarditis

Since the child in question I'm considering allowing to get the vaccine has no history of heart pain, this isn't something I'm worried about. It would definitely be something to keep in mind post-vaccination however6.

Now I have another kid who has complained of having chest pains. This would be a potential strike against this vaccine for him. I'd be wary of administering something that could cause chest pain for someone already experiencing it (and for whom we don't know the cause of said pains).

Allergic reactions

Additionally we are warned "Do not administer Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine to individuals with known history of a severe allergic reaction (e.g., anaphylaxis) to any component of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine."7. So what are said components?8

  • lipids: (4-hydroxybutyl)azanediyl)bis(hexane-6,1-diyl)bis(2-hexyldecanoate), 2[(polyethylene glycol)-2000]- N,N-ditetradecylacetamide, 1,2-distearoyl-sn-glycero-3-phosphocholine and cholesterol
  • 0.9% Sodium Chloride Injection, USP
  • sucrose
  • dibasic sodium phosphate dihydrate
  • monobasic potassium phosphate
  • potassium chloride

Well, we aren't aware of any allergic reactions to any of those components so, could be fine.

mRNA vaccine safety

Based on my cursory (but admittedly limited) research, mRNA vaccines are considered safer than live, attenuated viruses vaccines since they can not cause:

  • actual infections
  • mutations from inserting at unexpected location in your genes.

Unforeseen consequences

This is the part I actually care about. The things we can't anticipate, and just need more data to see. The only thing of concern I've seen thus far relates to this paper. The paper hasn't actually been reviewed yet and there are already comments pointing out some issues with the paper and the claims it makes.

Given that, the existing data for the BNT162b2 vaccine seems to pretty strongly suggest that it'd be OK for my kid.

2. Moderna

The other mRNA vaccine. Only received emergency approval for 18 years of age and older as of August 14, 2021.

3. Janssen

AKA the Johnson and Johnson COVID-19 vaccine. Only received emergency approval for 18 years of age and older as of August 14, 2021.

4. AstraZeneca

ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 is by some reports ~90% effective, but not approved for use in the US. Also (along with the Moderna and J&J vaccines), it's been linked to blood clots.9

5. Novavax

NVX-CoV2373 is a recombinant vaccine made from the coronavirus spike protein which has demonstrated 90% efficacy in clinical trials. It's not authorized for use yet, emergency or otherwise, but its trial has been expanded to include 12-17 year olds.


None of this information is likely accurate after August 14, 2021. As more data is collected about these vaccines what we know (and don't) will change. Have a question, ask your doctor. Don't trust your doctor? Get a new one. Now if you just don't trust science-based research (or believe the immune system is a thing) in general, you have larger problems.

Consider this though, after the emergence (and use) of polio and smallpox vaccines, occurence of those diseases fell rapidly. The thing that changed in society wasn't more wholistic diets or increased use of essential oils, it was vaccine administration. Even if you don't trust science10, trust the data.

Finally, the government has actually put there money where there mouth is with respect to the vaccine. If you can prove you've been injured by taking the vaccine the Countermeasures Injury Compensation Program will provide benefits. No COVID-19 benefits have been paid out yet, but claims have been filed.

Have any questions or comments about the resources linked (or even omitted) here? @reply to @opinion8d_logic on twitter with the hashtag #vaccine-nation. (See what I did there?)

P.S. Please don't contact me asking about chloroquine or hydroxychloroquine.


For those travelling here from the past: COVID-19 (Coronavirus disease 2019) is an infectious disease caused by the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, that appeared in late 2019. It is predominantly a respiratory illness that can affect other organs. People with COVID-19 have reported a wide range of symptoms, ranging from mild symptoms to severe illness. Symptoms may appear 2 to 14 days after exposure to the virus. Symptoms may include: fever or chills; cough; shortness of breath; fatigue; muscle or body aches; headache; new loss of taste or smell; sore throat; congestion or runny nose; nausea or vomiting; diarrhea. Our family had COVID-19 a while back, it wasn't very fun.


Based on a peer reviewed, but sponsored by Pfizer + BioNTech paper. That doesn't bother me none though. A pharma company that falsified data would be on the hook for billions in fines. It's not fiscally worth the risk to make shit up here for a high profile vaccine that you know others will be going over with a fine-toothed comb.


Think of a pandemic as a global epidemic, i.e. an epidemic that has spread to multiple countries or continents. An epidemic meanwhile, is a disease that affects hella people and can be effectively spread.


Vaccine is formulated in lipid particles, which enable delivery of the RNA into host cells to allow expression of the SARS-CoV-2 S antigen. The vaccine elicits an immune response to the S antigen, which protects against COVID-19. Source, pg 33.


This would be the point where I jump into the data and start breaking down charts, but I'm just going to lead you to the source. Do check the data for yourself, if you care. Do keep in mind this research was sponsored by Pfizer + BioNTech. See footnote #2 above for why I'm OK with this.


Vaccine components taken from FACT SHEET FOR HEALTHCARE PROVIDERS ADMINISTERING VACCINE, pg 32, section 13 - Description.


I haven't any papers to reference this claim, merely news reports which don't offer a clear link. Given the wealth of vaccination options though, I'd rather just get one not linked to blood clot formation, no matter how small the risk. If it were my only option, I'd look at the data harder. Does it happen only to "X age group" or "individuals with X health risks"?


Not even scientists trust science, that's why we argue all the time. But those disagreements always need to be backed by data.