It’s been a long time coming, but the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has just deemed the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines to be safe and effective for children under 5. This means that the youngest of the population — from 6 months through 4 years of age — are one step closer to getting vaccinated.
“Many parents, caregivers and clinicians have been waiting for a vaccine for younger children, and this action will help protect those down to 6 months of age. As we have seen with older age groups, we expect that the vaccines for younger children will provide protection from the most severe outcomes of COVID-19, such as hospitalization and death,” says FDA Commissioner Robert M. Califf, MD, in a statement announcing the decision.
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Before this, the youngest children eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine were ages 5 to11. There’s been a concern about approving vaccines for young children, especially considering the impact of the omicron variant.
Now, we’re just waiting for the thumbs up from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to fully put the vaccine into distribution. Naturally, you probably have some questions around vaccinating your little ones.
“It’s safe for children to get this vaccine and they’re going to have much better ongoing protection from future virus infections,” says pediatrician Kimberly Giuliano, MD.
Dr. Giuliano gives us an idea of what this new vaccine eligibility means for this age group.
Q: Is the COVID-19 vaccine safe for young children?
A: Yes. The FDA is endorsing two different COVID-19 vaccine products. One is from Moderna, which is a two-dose series, and the other is from Pfizer, which is a three-dose series.
“Both of them are very effective and very safe,” says Dr. Giuliano. “And Moderna is actually in the process of evaluating a potential third dose as well. So it may be in the near future that they are very similar, both in terms of safety, effectiveness and dosing.”
So, there’s no stress over having to choose one or the other. No matter what vaccine your pediatrician has available, you can rest assured that both options will do the trick.
Q: Does this include babies and toddlers?
A: Yes. The FDA has specified that children between the ages of 6 months through 4 years of age are able to get these new COVID-19 vaccines.
Q: Why should my child receive the COVID-19 vaccine?
A: While young children typically don’t experience as severe courses of COVID-19, it’s still important for them to get protected against the virus and any other possible variants. Kids in this age group are still at risk for hospitalization, and there’s been over 400 reported deaths from COVID-19 since its beginning. Also, even if your little one has gotten COVID-19 already, you still want to ensure they get vaccinated.
“What we’ve seen is that as the virus changes, unvaccinated individuals — kids and adults — are susceptible to future outbreaks,” says Dr. Giuliano. “Getting COVID once doesn’t mean you won’t get it again.”
One of the main concerns is babies and young children developing multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MIS-C) because of COVID-19. In addition, your child may also get long COVID-19, where symptoms exceed for several weeks at a time.
“Anyone that’s taking care of a child in this age group through a short illness knows how challenging that could be,” says Dr. Giuliano. She adds that’s why it’s important to help kids avoid getting sick with COVID-19.
Q: Will my child experience side effects from the COVID-19 vaccine?
A: Your child may experience some mild side effects. Luckily, because this vaccine has been tested extensively, there’s plenty of data to help you know what to expect.
“What the tests have found was that children in the 5 to11 age group have tolerated the vaccine beautifully,” notes Dr. Giuliano. Overall, the more severe vaccine side effects tend to occur in adults.
“Because this particular vaccine for kids is a significantly lower dose, parents can rest assured that the safety profile we’ve seen for older kids will hold true for younger kids as well,” she adds.
Some side effects common side effects for children after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine include:
- Redness at the injection site (their thigh).
If you’re seeing that your infant or young child is experiencing any of these symptoms — trouble sleeping, fussiness, signs of pain — Dr. Giuliano recommends allowing it to run its course.
The key is keeping an eye on your little one and monitoring any changes in symptoms. “The good news is that we treat it all the same with tender love and care and extra hugs from parents,” says Dr. Giuliano. “And if those symptoms are starting to interfere with sleeping and eating, that’s when a dose of something like baby Tylenol® could be considered.”
Q: Is there a specific time my child should get the COVID-19 vaccine if they’re also due for other vaccines?
A: If you’re already thinking ahead to flu season and any other routine immunizations, there shouldn’t be an issue with including the COVID-19 vaccines into your child’s schedule.
“It’s fine to give COVID vaccines alongside other routine immunizations. They can be given on the same day or a few days apart. There’s no specific spacing that we have to be concerned with,” says Dr. Giuliano.